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When Boyfriend texted, “Got accepted to medical school,” I was elated. I’d edited his essays for him, kept him company as he flew from state to state for interviews, had 1 a.m. Skype sessions when he needed encouragement. It was our victory, and we twirled into the honeymoon phase of our future solidified, not even considering that this would test our relationship.
Friends were skeptical. The web was full of doomsday articles.
Medical students hardly have enough time to learn how to not kill people, let alone maintain a healthy relationship.
Nevertheless, we were optimistic. I was experienced in the doctor-family dynamic after all. My father had been a surgeon, and he was no stranger to missing family photos, milestones and engagements. Why would this be any different from what I was already used to?
Now as Medical-Boyfriend chugs his way through his first year of school, I can honestly say that no amount of research prepared me for the bizarreness of dating a med student. Here are five things I’ve learned so far.
1) OMG WHY ARE WE ARE SO BROKE?
The first day of med school, I attended a “spouses and partner orientation” (yes, those exist) where several sophomore couples unloaded on us newbies. Absent! Studying! “Poo-brain”! Useless! One of the wives “joked” that she often texted her husband that he owed her a Louis Vuitton bag for all her shouldered responsibility to their household.
How though? Med students are broke as hell, y’all, and accumulating hundreds of thousands in debt.
Also, the Bursar’s office is the devil and I’m unsure if their goal is not to put their students on the street. They tell you the last thing a student should worry about is money. Lies!
Sure there are student loans, scholarships, grants -- all of which Medical-Boyfriend was awarded -- yet somehow financial aid is always losing things, “readjusting” their budget, and somehow they always give you less money than promised, because government.
Oh, what’s that you say? Can’t make your rent? Well, you should have budgeted better. But you budgeted with the numbers we gave you? Oh, you mean after buying paying for all the tools, the books, the mandatory laptop program and our insultingly expensive health insurance, you’re a bit stretched? Our bad! Hey, why don’t you ask your parents for money? How about a private loan? Yes, you can do that with a steady income. Oh, you don’t have a steady income because you’re in med school? Oh, yeah, our bad! How about you ask your parents for money? Did we mention your parents?
Only, what if your parents aren’t rich or retired or paying off their own loans?
I’ll take, “screwed the heck over, better not lose my job” for 500, Alex.
2) You will find strange things in even stranger places.
A week into class, Medical-Boyfriend was already forgetting materials at school. We were once headed to the store when he cursed and made a sharp turn at the light.
“I need to pick up my bone box,” he said.
“My bone box.”
And it is exactly what you think it is. An ominous-looking wooden box with a sliding top, and inside is a human skeleton, the bones slightly yellowed from age and handling.
No biggie, right? We’ve all seen a human skeleton, I gather, and at least there’s no skull in the box (“Right now,” Medical-Boyfriend said).
But now the bones are in the bed. All the time. I’ve had the pleasure of rolling over onto a point -- and ow! What’s that? A vertebra? (Medical-Boyfriend: “I was looking for that!”)
And of course, it’s slightly disconcerting to come in from walking Cody, our spunky Pomeranian, and see the entire thing laid out carefully on the comforter. Clearly this is the work of poltergeists -- they are trying to possess a skeleton and kill us in our sleep.
I went to our blackboard and wrote: NO BONES IN BED. It’s right under: NO CODY IN BED. And yet Cody is always in our bed and I often end up playing footsie with phalanges (Medical-Boyfriend again, “I was looking for that!”)
Also, doing laundry is an adventure. Reach in, and come out with a shirt reeking of formaldehyde and a few chunks of human tissue fall to the floor. No, Cody, don’t eat that.
3) Dates have gotten pretty something.
Medical-Boyfriend wants to be a surgeon, so when his professor announced to his tank group that they had the best cervical spine dissection he’d ever seen, it was imperative we have a date night: boozy dinner, movie, and then a trip to the cadaver lab, whee!
We entered the lab in scrubs. The stations are called tanks, because that’s what they are, rows of silver tanks with bodies in them.
Medical-Boyfriend pulled on his latex gloves, threw open the tank doors and beckoned me forward. The body rested on a suspended platform. The smell of formaldehyde coated my mouth and nasal passages -- the bottom of the tank contained a pool of embalming fluid. Medical-Boyfriend moved around the tank -- he pushed down the levers, cranking the body up, up, until it was propped at examining height.
He beckoned me again, pulling the cover off the body’s head, down to its shoulders. It used to be a man.
“Isn’t it awesome?” Medical-Boyfriend grinned, peeling back the flaps of skin on the cadaver’s neck. Inside the gray-shaded meat and tissue is a cleanly exposed piece of spine. The inside of this human, the way he’s been dissected, reminds me of post-carved Thanksgiving turkey -- as long as I ignore the dead man’s cheeks, his grayed hair.
The line between a homicidal maniac and a med student is quite blurry.
4) I am a test subject in the house of a Mad Scientist.
“Would you like a massage?” Medical-Boyfriend asked one day. He started on my shoulders then fingered his way down my back. He was counting, mumbling to himself. I heard pages ruffling from a book.
“Are you Gross Anatomy-ing my back right now?”
“Ssh! How does it feel when I do this?”
It hurts, okay? Muscle rotation complete.
Not to mention his doctoring equipment, used at leisure if I stand still long enough. Like the time he charged at me with his tuning fork while I read or the time he assaulted me with a reflex hammer while I spoke on the phone. His stethoscope seems to always find its way to my back whenever I’m eating.
Once he checked my heart and looked almost disappointed that there was no murmur for him to experience. Also, that ophthalmoscope he keeps shinning in my eyes, and his otoscope? I fear he might poke out an eardrum, the way he goes poking around.
There’s also 3 a.m. quizzing sessions, during which I’m either pretending to be a sick patient or struggling through reading his multiple-choice options. How the eff do you pronounce Cauda equina?
Last time he stuck that ophthalmoscope in my eye I smacked his hand away. “Leave me alone,” I cried. “Can you leave me alone for one freaking minute?”
His response? “You’re a terrible patient.”
5) We must really like each other.
I’m proud of him.
I’m proud of how hard he works. He lets me wear his scrubs -- they’re ridiculously comfortable -- and, around town, I get a taste of doctor’s privilege (suddenly everyone wants to let you cut the line at the bank if they think you might be responsible for their life one day).
We have terrible fights, but no time to draw them out since he has to go study. We attend his weird med school parties and are both frightened that the tequila-chugging 20-something throwing up in the hot tub wants to be an ER doctor. We plan study-abroad programs and comic-con trips I’m sure he’ll have to opt out of.
If he’s not too tired, he always helps me with the medical passages of my novel -- coincidentally about a little boy who dreams of becoming a doctor. On Sunday, if we have free time, we catch up on "True Blood," the skeleton on one side of us, Cody on the other.
It’s weird, but it’s us. And it's good.
(Note: A photo was removed at the author's request. -Marianne)