Rika the Riveter

September 8, 2010

My wife, Rika, has completed six years of excruciating residency, passed the board exam the first time that she took it and is completing a similarly demanding medical toxicology fellowship now. She is raising our two beautiful children, works in a dangerous, hostile, challenging inner city ER, teaches, does research, refuses to hire a housekeeper yet keeps the house running like clockwork and puts up with me and all my crap.

My wife is furious with me. Again.

Months ago I agreed to go out of town and give a lecture on September 8. It didn’t dawn on me until a few weeks ago that it is my wife’s birthday. What the hell was I thinking?

That’s not the only reason why my wife wants to kill me. The kids start school pretty late this year, so guess who gets to take time off from work this week to watch them? Not me - the new job has created all kinds of unbreakable commitments. I emptied the dishwasher and put all the dishes away - I just didn’t notice that the dishes hadn’t been cleaned yet; so she had to re-clean every dish, glass, and fork in the kitchen. Then there are the usual annoyances - my books and papers are everywhere, I bounced a check that we gave as a wedding present, and my bathroom is a giant, fetid, four-wall petri dish.

Why does she stay with me?

My wife is a remarkable woman. We met when I was stationed in Japan. The U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa has a program in which several Japanese physicians spend a year working with Navy physicians, learning Western-style medical practices. My wife had completed the program the year before I arrived and was working at a trauma center in Osaka, as an emergency medicine trainee - the only female in the program. Some mutual friends made the introductions and we met when she gave me a tour of her hospital on a brilliant Saturday morning in October. I was amazed that Japanese medical records are written in a combination of English, German, and Japanese. The nurses all wore starched white uniforms and little white hats and kept their shoes on when entering and leaving the patient’s room and the cigarette smoke in the doctor’s lounge was thick as fog.

We launched a long distance romance and married 18 months later, after only seeing each other a half-dozen times and spending a total of about 19 days in each other’s company. My wife left everything that she knew and surrendered her career to join me in this carnival of a country. After five years, two children, three cross-country moves and more upheaval than you can imagine (see last week’s post ) Rika decided that she wanted to resume her career. Naturally, she wanted to return to her first love, emergency medicine, but emergency medicine residency training programs are incredibly competitive, so she gave up her dream and entered a pediatric residency.

After two years of peds, Rika was very unhappy. Like most working mothers, she felt guilty for working and “neglecting” her family (and as a resident, she worked more than most working moms). She was unhappy in limiting her career to pediatrics and so one night we sat on the floor of our kitchen and made a family decision that we would pursue her emergency medicine career wherever it took us.

Rika is the first female graduate of a Japanese medical school to complete an American emergency medicine residency. I’ve seen her stand up to violent, screaming, spitting crackheads dusted out of their minds, but she cries like a baby at Disney movies and some commercials.

Rika has completed six years of excruciating residency, passed the board exam the first time that she took it (English is not her native language, remember) and is completing a similarly demanding medical toxicology fellowship now. She is raising our two beautiful children, works in a dangerous, hostile, challenging inner city ER, teaches, does research, refuses to hire a housekeeper yet keeps the house running like clockwork and puts up with me and all my crap.

How the hell does she do it?

Happy Birthday, Baby. Thanks for making me a better man.