Tuesday, January 25, 2011

About My Sister

I remember in middle school when my sister announced she was going to be a doctor.
I was sitting at our round kitchen table, and I think she was leaning against the counter.
It seems we had just come home from school and we were having a snack before starting homework.
(Maybe not, but that's how I remember it.)

"I'm going to be a doctor." She said.
"Really?" My question was a mix of are-you-serious and yeah-whatever and you-really-mean-it-don't-you.
"Yep. I'm going to be a doctor and go to Africa and help people."

I think it was later that night we were all sitting at that round kitchen table when she told Mom and Dad.
I listened as they talked about how difficult that would be and that it takes a long time.
But in the end I think Dad said something like, "Well, if there was ever anyone with the determination to become a doctor, it's you."

Over the years when people asked Charity what she was going to be in life her response never changed.
She was going to be a doctor... and go to Africa... and help people.
Some would shake their heads and laugh in that pat-you-on-the-head-whatever kind of way.
Others would be quite impressed.

Then she graduated from our small-town high school, where the rate of students going on to a four year university was something the guidance counselors were always trying to improve more out of embarrassment than duty.
She went to Oregon State. She took pre-med classes.
She even minored in French.
She even went to Africa for a while her senior year.
The head shakers were still there, wondering what good a minor in French would ever be... and thinking she wouldn't actually go to medical school... but there were fewer of them.

The decision to go to Tulane was a big one.
Oregon Health and Sciences University was a short drive from home, but Tulane offered an accompanying Masters in Public Health and Tropical Medicine...
something that could come in quite handy in Africa.
Some people thought she would get down there and change her mind because of the pressure.
"Normal, small-town girls don't do this kind of thing. She'll be back."
Others knew her determination, and knew that for Charity there was no turning back.
(And, why can't they do this kind of thing?)

It was weird saying my sister lived in New Orleans.
Here I was being a stay-at-home mom and having babies, and my sister was going to medical school.
Medical School.
And she went to Africa. Again.
And her french came in awfully handy on that West Coast.

She graduated in 2005... Dr. Charity... and moved to Santa Barbara, just before Hurricane Katrina hit.

It was at Cottage Hospital that she began her surgical residency.
They asked if she had any plans to have children during her time there.
Not that it was forbidden, because that would be illegal. It was just... just... just not conducive to the residency environment.
Well, no. She didn't have any plans.
But Dr. Charity met Dr. David.
(Think Grey's Anatomy, but real life... and not so wishy-washy.)

Sunday, after five and a half years...
...after realizing surgical residency was changing her into someone she never wanted to be, and consequently switching midstream to Internal Medicine...
...after marrying her sweetheart and giving birth to three adorable sons...
...after going again (this time with her husband) to Africa...
...after sticking it through to the bitter end, despite the head shaking and the what-good-will-French-ever-do-for-you and the you-might-as-well-throw-in-the-towel people...
...Sunday, at 9:30pm on America's West Coast, my sister walked out of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital finished with residency...
Doctor of Internal Medicine.

And in a few weeks she will officially be the Director of Communicable Disease for Santa Barbara County.
My sister.
Dr. Charity Thoman, MD, MPH and TM - Internal Medicine.

It's been a long road.
A hard road.
Along the way she lost some things that were dear to her.
She also gained some things that are very dear to her.
Yet... she did it.

And someday I know... because I know... that we'll be in Africa.
Each of us doing what was placed in our hearts to do from the very start.

(Je t'aime. Je suis si fier d'ĂȘtre votre soeur.)

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