In which he gets free cake, and has time to eat it, too

"So I figured it out, "  Larry said as he looked up from his laptop, "I've worked 36 out of the last 38 days.  And one of those days off I spent doing clinic notes the whole day."

"Yeah, and that doesn't even take into consideration the 30+ hour call shifts."  I piled on.

His 38-day beard didn't do much for hiding the fatigue, though it did shave a few precious minutes from his morning routine.  He was living in "I'll-take-whatever-I-can-get" mode, where a coke and stale peanuts passes for dinner, crashing on the couch for two hours qualifies as a good night of sleep, and kissing the kids goodnight long after they've dozed off constitutes quality family time.  Sadly, the five extra minutes of sleep he gained by abandoning his razor made up a startlingly large percentage of his overall snooze time.

It was Friday night.  The babysitter had arrived, and the winter resident party awaited us.  But by the time Larry had shaved his beard and pulled a tie from the closet, he was spent.  We decided to scratch the semi-formal soiree and settle instead for a quiet dinner in jeans.  

"It changes you," said Larry's friend and fellow resident, as the four of us waited for the waitress to arrive with the entrees.  "Sometimes I think, as I trudge downstairs like a total zombie to do a 3 a.m. admission, what the heck am I even doing?" 

"It's inhumane.  You guys don't have time to eat, sleep or process anything.  You don't have time to be alive," I said, not intending to sound quite that dramatic.

None of us said it out loud, but it was the phrase on the tip of our tongues as we vented, empathized and commiserated about the lives (or lack thereof) of medical residents, and of those who love them: 
Sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it.

Residency is the stretch of the road that puts the journey itself in question.  It renders Larry either bleary-eyed exhausted or beady-eyed stressed. It seems as though the kids and I weigh him down as much as we give him comfort, if not more.  We unintentionally conjure the guilt about what he cannot give, what he cannot be, what he cannot do.  Self-confidence and patience trickle toward drought, while guilt gushes in abundant supply.  We resolve to hang on the best we can, praying for minimal damages.   And sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it. 

My train of thought derailed as the waitress clanked away the empty plates and posed the question of dessert.   No sooner had we asked for menus than a middle-aged man appeared at our table, put his hand on Larry's shoulder and announced that dessert would be his treat.  

"We just want to thank you, for taking care of my mother, for calling us and spending the time to keep us informed." the man continued.  "We thought we'd be going to a funeral today, but instead, we're taking Mom home. Thank you, thank you so much." 

He then turned to me and told me something I already knew, but so needed to hear in that moment,  "He's a wonderful doctor.  We're so grateful for the way he took care of my mom."

I glimpsed a twinkle in Larry's blurry, post-call eyes as he shook the man's hand and wished him well.  God must have known he couldn't handle anything more on his shoulders that night than a pat of encouragement.

Maybe it is worth it, after all.

And not just because of the free Molten Lava Chocolate Cake, though that certainly sweetened the deal.

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