After Danny’s funeral Dr.Friedman the heade of surgery at Jefferson Hospital arranged for Michael to take a few days off. During this period Micahel was sending thank you notes for all who had written or had left Mass cards. In the pile of mail was a large manilla envelope. Michael opened it and inside was a book and a short noite that said”hope this helps” The book was Man;s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl a Jewish physician .Michael skimmed the book but once he started reading he could not put the book down. He was touched by the reality that the author had lost most of his family and so many other vital parts of his life. One passage seared his soul.”When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer,he will have to accept his suffering as his task;his single and unique task.He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe.No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place.His unique opportunity lies in the way he bears his burden.”.This and the re3st of the book did not remove the dagger oif grief from his heart but he made him search for what meaning these losses provide in his life
The next few months were an emotional roller coaster for Michae
but in March he found out where he was accepted for a surgical residency.. Michael had been accepted to the surgical residency program at Bellevue Hospital. Within a few short weeks he would be totally immersed in his new environment. One of the key challenges for Michael and Arlene was to secure an apartment as close to the hospital as possible .Residency played a paltry sum of $100 a month and they realized that this would not adequately cover Arlene and the families’ living expenses. They had a small savings account ,but sinceDanny’s death Michael and his father had become extremely close ,and his father had pledged adegree of financial help while Michael was studying to be a surgeon
One off Michael’s professors at Jefferson Dr Rodger Friedman who was most supportive of Michaels decision to pursue surgery.He was keenly aware of the trials that Michael had experienced and had apparently shared the tragic story with his wife Two weeks before the McNallys were to move to New York Mrs Friedman called Alene and invited her to lunch.Arlene remembered how solicitous Mrs Friedman had been during Danny’s death, and gladly accepted the invitation. She was but a month away from the birth of their second child and had recently experienced a great deal of water retention. Despite the difficulty that this presented she never slowed down, and was tremendously supportive to Michael
It was a beautiful clear day and Arlene was grateful to have the opportunity to have a social event that did not require planning or financial justification. When she arrived at the Capital Grill Mrs,Friedman was already seated and rose to greet her. “Good afternoon Arlene it is so nice to see you. “Arlene responded Thank you Mrs Friedman it was so kind of you to invite me to lunch. Mrs Friedman sat and said” Please call me Phyllis ., Mrs Friedman is too formal, and I feel that I somewhat know you.”
For the next ten minutes the two women exchanged pleasantries and bits of information ,but at this point it became apparent to Arlene that there was a purpose to this luncheon invitation.
Phyllis began to delineate the reason why she had asked Arlene to join her.”have been the wife of a surgeon for over thirty years, and I can still remember Rodger’s residency years. Many of his colleagues and friends of ours were in the residency with him, and almost all were married. It is somewhat sad that most of those marriages did not survive the surgical residency. Arlene could not fathom at this time why Phyllis was sharing this history..
Phyllis continued “I tell you this Arlene because I care about what you and Michael are about to experience. In in no way do I want to be a busybody or a know it all. However, I would like to share some of the things I learned along the way. Would it be alright if I did that ?“Arlene had such a sense that Phyllis was genuine and caring, and this introduction had completely engaged her interest. Arlene said” please continue because this is a whole new challenge for us.””
“:Next it is critical that you find time together. In the immortal words of the poet”Rodger and I did not have a” pot to pee in “but we found time to have dates ,and even a yearly vacation, We made tough choices financially to do this but it created the moments for us to be truly together without all the other distractions.
Also don’t look at the whole surgical residency. It looms too long, so I suggest t that you approach it with short term goals,You will find that it is easier to not only get through the grueling times, it will give you a sense of accomplishment.”
Both Arlene and Phyllis were so engrossed in their conversation that they had barely attended to their food which was getting cold. Phyllis offered that she would come up for air and they should eat a little.
Returning to her counsel Phyllis said”Flexibility has to be something that becomes part and parcel of your lives. So many times an emergency at the hospital will take precedent over your plans and you may feel resentful ,and Michael will feel guilty. At this time reflect and share your needs and feelings with each other. I would also urge you to be inventive. I cant tell you how many time s I took the boys to see their father at the hospital. Often we would take him a sandwich or bring some of the kids drawings. They loved it ,and so did we. It truly connected us and allowed the entire family to share in the residency.
Another tip was that we refused to be boxed into the holidays of the rest of the family. It was too much pressure ,so there were times when we had a seder three weeks after the regular Passover date. It allowed us to live in the present while at the same time looking forward to the time when this phase would be over.
Arlene felt as though she had sat at the feet of a mistress of learning and and could not wait to share Phyllis counsel with Michael. At the end of the meal she embraced Phyllis and agreed to ake Phyllis up on her offer of regular phone calls and communication.