8 Things 8 years of marriage has taught me

Last weekend was our 8th anniversary weekend. Lots of people did not believe that I’ve been married that long. I wonder if it’s because I looked young, or perhaps because people did not think that marriage could last my surgical training that long?

You know the old joke: An elderly couple was asked “Wow, you’ve been married for such a long time. In all these years, has divorce ever crossed your mind?” The old couple replied, “Divorce? Never. Murder, many times.”

Anyway, it’s been such a heaven on earth, and I feel that I have not yet left my honeymoon stage (don’t know if my wife has left the honeymoon stage and thinking of murder at this point). I think it is important for me and for my dear wife (who received a late anniversary present) to know how I feel about our marriage. I thought about it while facebooking the other night, and realised that I have learnt a lot of things about marriage and life in general.

These are the 8 things 8 years of marriage has taught me:

1. Marriage is easy.

Yes, particularly if you married the right person. I don’t know what all the fuss was about ‘surrendering your rights’, ‘putting spouse before me’, ‘loving and serving’, etc. I thought my marriage was relatively easy. I think that’s where I’m extremely lucky. I got myself a good spouse. Well, I had 9 other competitors going for the same girl many years ago, but I won the fight and took the girl trophy home. It’s smooth sailing from then on. So my advice boys: choose your spouse carefully, and fight hard for her!

2. Marriage is costly.

Have you seen the number of gifts I bought for her? Bags no longer used, dresses no longer worn, accessories still in boxes, flowers now decayed. It is costly, but it’s all an investment. “It’s the thought that counts” is a myth, people. It actually is the gift that counts. But that’s ok. To see the smile on her face, that’s priceless. For everything else, there’s mastercard. And all the extra oncall shifts that comes with it.

3. Marriage is safe.

We decided early on to enter the covenant of marriage in a biblical sense and never never never ever consider divorce as an option. It seems almost counter-cultural in this day and age where almost 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce. But we found that this commitment has kept both of us safe. We can count on the other at all times. We face challenges, any challenges, as a team. I feel safe when I’m with her, and so does she.

4. Marriage keeps you humble.

I don’t like to admit this, but I often feel like a real flawed human because I’m living with a flawless angel. Her beauty, compassion and purity of heart keep my cold surgical heart and arrogant attitude in check. Each time I act like the lord of the universe, she reminds me of who I am and keeps me in right perspective. I put away my light sabre yet again.

5. Marriage does not cure loneliness.

It’s interesting to think that many people get into the marriage thing hoping to cure their loneliness. Not quite. What’s worse than being lonely is being locked in relationship with the wrong person and feeling alienated by that person. What some call loneliness, I believe is something else altogether.  Blaise Pascal, a French Mathematician and Physicist said “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God.” I think I understand what he means. Marriage is not that which will absolve all your loneliness. Once that God-filled vacuum is filled, marriage can and will bring out the best in you.

6. Marriage is fun.

Needless to say, my happiest moments in life happen within the context of my marriage. And these joyous times are even better because they are shared with my best friend. Examples of our fun times? Birth of our son, family holidays, getting into our training programs, and well… a few other things that a family-friendly blog cannot include.

7. Marriage hurts sometimes.

As iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpens another. She makes me a better person. Not easy for her, nor for me. But I realise the emotional pain I feel is for my own good as she always sees the best in me. And because we know each other so well, we are also the one most able to hurt each other with a particular word or two. Marriage opens the darkest parts of me. She knows that, sees that, and still loves me because she can also see the potential good in me. The hurts are necessary so the good will be experienced.

8. Marriage is about the journey.

We agree that we are stronger today than 8 years ago. We haven’t got there yet. We know the road ahead will not always be smooth because we have some very big dreams about what we want to do with life. But we’re safe. Because we’re best friends on the same journey, we can face all of life’s storms together. We do not know our ultimate destination, but because the journey is so enjoyable as it is with her at the moment, it probably does not really matter where we will be.

Now, I need to get approval from dear wife to post this blog… Wish me luck.

What’s your IQ?

Mine is pretty low.

I’ve been thinking about my work as an ENT registrar at a busy tertiary referral hospital here in Australia. I receive patients from all over the state as we have a fully serviced ENT department with Trauma, Hyperbaric  Oxygen, and other superspecialised services under one roof. So we see patients with complex presentations requiring high level care that only this hospital can provide, which means that my day is often inundated with phone call interruptions. Doctors from other hospitals, including interstate, may refer patients to our service. Some call for advice, others request urgent assistance and transfer. Patients too, interrupt my day with various queries ranging from “When will I next come to clinic?” to “My father’s tracheostomy tube is dislodged, and he’s coughing up blood. What do I do?” One day I looked at my iPhone and calculated that I received 43 phone calls between 7am to 6pm. And this is on top of the ward round, clinic, face to face consults with upwards of 20-30 patients and the operating session.

Busy, busy, busy. I hate interruptions. I’m sure you do too. But interruptions, particularly for a surgeon, is a necessary part of our job. When I come to work, or be on call, there’s a huge element of unpredictability as to what will actually happen. My ideal day will be when I get to operate all day uninterrupted. But that rarely happens.

It’s obvious that the more interruptions I get, the more annoyed/irritated/frustrated I become. The poor doctor who was caller number 35 that day received the unfortunate end of my annoyance stick. He was unlucky. But to him and his patient, that call was important because they needed my assistance. But to me, it was an interruption.

At home, when I’m trying to immerse myself in the anatomy of the pterygopalatine fossa and it’s contents, my son may run up to me and shout “daddy, daddy”. That’s an interruption as well. Or is it really? To Little E, he was simply expressing his love and desire to play. To me, he was an interruption.

So I have a very low IQ, indeed.

Interruptibility Quotient, that is.

And it’s not good. People don’t interrupt other people for the sake of interrupting. Most of the interruptions in my life as a trainee surgeon comes from true requests for assistance. Patients need specialty help and advice. And I’m here to provide them. My son is not an interruption. He is a gift from above, given to me so both he and I can grow.

When is something or someone an interruption? I suppose when I expect my day to go a certain way according to my plan, and there are unexpected intrusions to my day. That’s an interruption. Dictionary says “something that breaks continuity or uniformity.” I want my day to be uniform and continuous, but something breaks or intrudes into it.

There are 2 personal issues here: 1. I want to control my day, 2. I do not want anyone or anything to interrupt my day.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hmm… that’s pretty unrealistic and childish.” Well I think so too. I’ve been challenged to think that perhaps maturity may also include the ability to accept interruptions, and that I do not have full control over my day. They say maturity involves accepting responsibilities. I say that maturity also involves accepting interruptions as part of life. Throwing tantrums whenever I get interrupted doesn’t seem quite a mature thing to do.

As a trainee surgeon, a father and a husband, I need to accept interruptions as a normal part of life. Interruptions are to be opportunities to help, assist, care, grow, encourage. Accepting interruptions as normal will lower my annoyance level and help me mature quicker. I need to respond to each interruption with grace and humility. Noah was interrupted by a flood. Abra(ha)m was interrupted by a call to leave his home. Moses by a burning bush. David by a Goliath. Jonah by a storm and a mighty big fish. And Jesus interrupted the engagement plans for teenage kids Mary and Joseph with His arrival. I’m glad Mary saw Jesus not as an interruption but as a gift.

Interruptions are opportunities to practice grace and humility. Interruptions are gifts. Interruptions are a normal part of life.

What about you? What’s your IQ: Interruptibility Quotient? What are the interruptions in your life that you need to see as gifts and opportunities for grace and humility? How can you turn interruptions into a tool to help you mature in your life?