Class of 2020
Alexis del Vecchio
Today’s post is by two authors: Mandy Laney and her husband, third-year student Zegilor Laney. Their honesty regarding balancing marriage and family life is both great advice to future and fellow medical students and their spouses, and a realistic glimpse of how not just students but also their families are laying down their lives for the future of health care. Thank you so much, Mandy and Zegilor!
Mandy: “I think I want to apply to medical school.”
One cold winter day in 2010 my husband came home from his job as an electrical engineer and said these words to me as I bounced our first child on my knee. We were living in Charlotte at the time and I can’t say I took him too seriously at first. As more time passed, he was certain that this was a road he wanted to travel. He was tired of the ins and outs of his job as an engineer and wanted to do something more. I was nervous because I was a stay at home mom and his job was our only source of income but what else could I say? We both knew his potential and knew there was something bigger out there waiting for us, so he started the process of taking prerequisites and applying for medical school.
Zegilor: Mandy is probably eighty percent of the reason I wanted to go to medical school. The show House is probably the other twenty percent if I’m being honest. When we got pregnant we were just a couple of scared kids with no idea what to do. After seeing her relationship with her OB, I decided I might be able to do something like that.
Mandy says that she didn’t take me seriously at first and if I remember correctly she’s right, she laughed at me in our kitchen. The next time I brought it up she cried. I knew I was asking a lot. I’m still kind of amazed she agreed to it, considering we were doing okay for ourselves at the time. We didn’t tell anyone for years. It was during the prerequisite years that Mandy and the boys started getting used to my absence. We were living in Rock Hill and I was taking perquisites in Columbia after work, so I was gone from 7 am until 9 pm three days a week. Time was the first thing we had to learn to manage. We’d have my mom come watch the kids and we’d sneak out to a movie or something. It wasn’t much time overall but every bit helps. This is my first piece of advice for couples in medical school: make time.
Mandy: In 2015 we learned that he had been accepted and began making plans to move to Greenville. I remember the night we sat down after dinner and told our six and four-year-old sons that we would be picking up everything and moving away from the life we knew. They were sad and confused and excited all wrapped into one. In May of 2016 we had our third child and two months later we were on our way to Greenville. If you’re wondering what it’s like moving across the state with a newborn baby, two kids, a dog, and all your belongings…it’s kind of like juggling bowling balls that are on fire.
When Zegilor started school a few weeks after we arrived, he came home every day with a mouthful of new information and was meeting new people and making friends each day. It was amazing for him to be surrounded by people who shared his same excitement and passion for this new adventure. Meanwhile I was spending my days chasing two kids, keeping up with feeding and nap schedules for our two-month-old and just trying to keep my head above water in a city where I knew no one. Being extremely happy for my husband and all these new things he was experiencing while dealing with my own stress and sudden loneliness was a balancing act for me. One day during his first year he came home saying we had been invited to a potluck dinner with his IPM group. I hesitated at first. I knew nothing about medicine and on top of that, these were a bunch of single people who were a good bit younger than I was and I wasn’t even sure what we would talk about. He really wanted us all to go, though, so we did. It was really my first time seeing up close and personal into this new life. The people in his group were absolutely amazing to my family. They were so welcoming and excited to meet us and played with our children and wanted to know all about me. When we left there that night, I felt connected in a new way. My first piece of advice for spouses of medical students: Get involved and don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Zegilor: From my perspective first year was great. I didn’t have to go to work, everything we were learning was interesting, and I was meeting new people every day. My IPM group was great. Mandy even considered taking them up on their offers to babysit, which if you know my wife, is an amazing endorsement of character. Looking back on first year now, I realize I was kind of a jerk. I would come home ready to tell Mandy all about my day with no consideration she had been locked up in a house with an infant, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. On top of that when Mandy did want to get out of the house I was noncommittal. I figured if I had been gone all day studying, why should I leave? I just wanted to relax. I’ve gotten better about this but I’m still learning to see things from her perspective in the moment. My second piece of advice: don’t be a jerk.
Mandy: While the first year was the hardest for me, second year was definitely the hardest for my husband. I had finally settled into our new life, made new friends of my own, and even started my own dream job as a preschool teacher. For him there were presentations to be done, labs to attend, quizzes, tests, studying, studying, and studying some more. Preparing for Step One was the most stressful and draining time for him. Sometimes he would study fourteen hours or more in a day. There were many nights when he would get home late, but he still made time for all of us. No matter how busy he was, he would always come in with a smile and hugs. He would take the kids on a night run or throw the football with them in the yard or help with math homework. I knew how exhausted he was, but he was still there for us every day, sometimes spending time with us while knowing he had a full night’s worth of studying after we all went to bed. I tried my best to be encouraging to him and always keep the coffee pot full, which is truly the way to a med student’s heart. My second piece of advice for medical student spouses: Take care of them, and when they’re not remembering to take care of themselves, call them out on it. Also…keep them caffeinated.
Zegilor: Mandy says I was able to make time for everyone during second year but she’s being generous. By late April I was a zombie. I had stopped leaving the house. I had basically stopped eating. We usually eat dinner as a family every day but at this point I was skipping most of those. I also wasn’t sleeping. It was bad news bears. Mandy had to sit me down a couple days before the test and tell me I wasn’t doing well. Luckily, I listened to her and delayed the test. My third piece of advice is to listen to the people that love you.
Mandy: The third year has been a breath of fresh air. He is getting to apply everything he has learned over the last couple years and seeing patients each day. My personal favorite part of third year has been the phone calls I get on his lunch break or on the drive home after something amazing has happened: “Mandy! I just got to be the first person to hold a baby! I mean…a brand new baby!” or “I was just in the operating room during a life-saving surgery!” I hear about all the conversations he has with the sweet little ladies in the office or about him finding a common interest with a patient who didn’t feel like talking at first. I’ve watched him go from liking a little bit of everything to finding his one true passion: women’s health and delivering sweet babies. Between a future OB-GYN and a preschool teacher and parents of three, what can we say? We love children. My third piece of advice: Share their excitement. Be happy they’re happy and doing what they love. Encourage them when they days are long.
Being married and having a family in medical school has been one of the most challenging and rewarding thing in our lives and this journey is far from over. Fourth year is drawing closer every day which means figuring out as a family where to go from here. That’s the thing about having a family in medical school: when you are faced with decisions, you have to make them together. I have been joking with my husband lately that I need to live somewhere where they have sweet tea but really home is wherever he is…wherever our kids are…and I can’t wait to watch him continue to grow into the amazing doctor he was made to be and fulfill this dream that we set out to reach so many years ago.
Zegilor: When you’re married in medical school, people will tell you how difficult it is or give examples of marriages that didn’t work out, but I’ve never been bothered by those anecdotes. Mandy and I have always kind of existed outside the norm. We got married young, had a bunch of kids and quit a well-paying job to go back to school. I don’t think any part of our life has been exactly normal. I know we’re lucky to have each other. So my last piece of advice: be thankful.
Mandy, I’m thankful for everything you do. Day in and day out you keep everything going so I can focus on school. I would not be here if it were not for you. Thank you for loving me and giving me children and not being mad when I play video games too much. I love you, and we’re almost done.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville