After breaking up with my prior girlfriend, I tried to meet people. I tried real life, I tried the internet. I was even so desperate that I tried Tinder. I swiped right on a lot of people, and got almost no responses back. I know I’m not the greatest looking guy to ever walk the face of the earth, but I’m also not hideous. And, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well at this point, right? I think I have at least some interesting things to say, and can be somewhat funny, no? And again, why does it not seem to matter that I’m a physician? In short, what the hell man?!
So I was jealous of this guy who I had never met. He was going to get to marry someone cool as hell, and I wasn’t sure if I’d meet anyone worth dating, frankly. I was 30 at the time. Most of the quality people are married, otherwise taken, or divorced with children at that age. I was beginning to worry that I was kinda screwed. And I wasn’t particularly excited about meeting someone after residency and fellowship. The attending lifestyle might make it easier to meet people, but I think I would always wonder if they were just with me because attending physicians make good money. I didn’t want that kind of relationship or marriage. My increasingly cynical world view wasn’t yet totally solidified, and I was still seeking that ephemeral thing that not all of us find in life: true love.
I’m not sure exactly how long they were engaged, but apparently this guy started talking to some other girl or his ex or some other such thing, and to make a long story short, they broke up. I’m pretty sure I was there for that one, too. At work the next day, I mean. Which is very coincidental, because we’d only spend a few weeks on service and then go months before rotating back through. I happened to be there (at work) for the engagement and the breakup. I was far less upset when it was the latter than the former, though Nicole was crying her eyes out, and truthfully I did feel bad for her. But I was kind of happy about it.
So I had this huge crush on a person who I got along with famously and found very attractive. And my plan, my honest to God plan, was to do precisely nothing about it. Sure, the upside would be great if I asked her out and she said yes. But, if the answer had been “no,” what the hell would I do then? It would have made work super awkward, and I certainly don’t think our friendly banter would have continued. And, then I would have been the “weird resident” who was asking out people in the department. You don’t want to be the resident who gets a reputation for hitting on people at work. It’s just not professional. Plus, then people are all talking about it because it’s the department gossip. No, there were far too many risks involved. I was going to do nothing.
And so I did exactly that: nothing. One of my buddies from residency, a guy who was actually in our wedding, wasn’t as concerned with such matters and he just straight up asked her out. He even told me they had gone out, and once again I was pretty much like, “well s**t.” But from what I’ve gathered in talking to them since, it was very weird for both of them, and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going anywhere. I was nevertheless committed to not becoming “that guy,” and so I did nothing. But still, bullet dodged.
Out of the blue one day, she sent me a message on Facebook. It was actually during the pediatrics rotation of my PGY-2 year. The very same rotation I was on when the cancer symptoms started, actually. So I kind of have a love-hate relationship with that particular rotation. She asked me if I was going to some festival that was going on that weekend. And, unfortunately, I was not. I was working at Children’s that weekend. It never even occurred to me that she was asking because she wanted to go with me. I thought it was just a question. I’m kind of oblivious sometimes.
A month or so went by and I was on call at the main hospital. It was a Saturday. Surgery had just done a procedure on a guy’s esophagus (the food tube), and they requested what we call a “leak study” to make sure everything was okay. We have the patient drink oral contrast, and look for contrast that is able to get outside of the food tube using live x-rays, basically. If the oral contrast can get out of the esophagus while you’re drinking it, that means there’s a hole somewhere in the surgical site that needs to be fixed. It’s not uncommon to do these types of cases on call.
So I went to the department and did the case with one of the technologists on call. Her name was Jennifer. She was a mutual friend of Nicole and myself. After we were done, and shutting everything down, she said asked me what I thought of Nicole. I told her that I thought Nicole was “cool as s**t,” I believe. Jenn then asked me why I hadn’t asked Nicole out already. I explained my reasoning. She said that I was an idiot, and that if I asked Nicole out, she would definitely say yes.
As I was walking out of the hospital that day, I got another message from Nicole, asking if I was going to some other, different festival they were having that weekend. And even though I was working that weekend, too, and couldn’t meet up with her, I had finally decided it was safe enough to roll the dice and ask her out. I actually thought, since she messaged me that day, that she had put our mutual friend up to it, but in talking to Jenn later, I found out it was just another huge coincidence.
But it was a lucky one, because that very day we made plans to go get dinner and see a movie later in the week. Indian food, and Guardians of the Galaxy for the curious. The rest, as they say, is history. I was sure we’d get along. I was fairly certain we’d end up dating for a long time. And, a small part of me kind of thought we’d end up getting married.
Continue reading in the next installment by Christopher Graham here: Chapter 6 | Part 3: Love, Marriage, and Cancer
Read the previous installment by Christopher Graham here: Chapter 6 | Part 1: Boy Meets Girl