Wednesday, April 25, 2007

30 posts in 30 days, day 22: sometimes you get the elevator, other times you get the shaft

With only a dozen or so spots around the country, it might have been overly cavalier for me to assume that Joe would get one of his top two choices in the fellowship match. I figured at worst, we would at least match in one of the top five programs on our match list. "But it won't come to that," I told Joe as recently as this weekend. "You'll match high on your list. We'll be in New York or Columbus."

What I wasn't expecting was that we wouldn't match at all.

In retrospect, maybe it's not so surprising. A highly competitive fellowship within an already highly competitive field. Only about a dozen spots available each year, spread out around the country (see the sadly deficient though colorful map from yesterday's entry--"West Virgina" indeed). An insular culture in which personal connections or hidden agendas count as much as anything on your CV. All these factors should make today's match outcome perhaps slightly less shocking. And yet, I AM FLOORED.

I mean, OK, I know that the odds are stacked against anyone hoping against hope to land a plastics fellowship. An online ophthalmology forum that I happened across described such a feat as the equivalent of "catching a Hail Mary," which I'm not even what that means (football? maybe?) but was reassuring and depressing all at once. The match is like that sometimes. Sometimes the black box spits out something good, and sometimes it spits out something bad, but either way, you don't exactly know why.

But what really gets me is, if Joe didn't match, WHO DID? He's chief resident at a big-name hospital, topped out on all his tests, published papers, and been mentored by one of the big names in oculoplastics, who has proclaimed him the best resident he's seen in 15 years. He got interviews almost everywhere he applied, and got great feedback through the attending grapevine. Joe says I was overly confident, but I will maintain until my dying day that my level of confidence in his candidacy was appropriate. He is a good-ass doctor, and a bad-ass surgeon.

I'm not bitter, because hey, any excuse to put off getting my driver's license is a good excuse, but my god, what do you have to do to land this fellowship? Shoot laser beams out of your eyes? Fly around the world backwards so fast that you actually reverse the Earth's rotation on its axis and turn back time? Thereby saving Lois and Jimmy from the earthquake caused by the bomb that Lex Luthor hijacked? IS THAT WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO?

I don't know what else to say. I am shocked. I feel bad for Joe, who is certainly taking things pretty well, considering, but you don't spend a year working towards something, with all the applications and interviews and travelling and the money, dear god the amount of money we've spent on this process--and not just feel totally beat down when in the end you have nothing to show for it. I don't know what we're going to do next, be it scrambling for another fellowship spot or applying again next year or just to say the hell with fellowship altogether, I'm going to become an attending and swim in my pile of gold coins. We're just going to let the matter rest for a few days and regroup, and maybe by next week we'll be ready to talk about What Comes Next.

I just still can't believe it.

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