Aroostook County – For many, March 30 is not a date that stands out on the calendar like December 25, February 14 or the fourth Thursday in November, but for one County couple, who both happen to work as doctors at TAMC, the day holds special significance.
March 30 is National Doctors’ Day, a day set aside to recognize and celebrate the contributions of doctors in their communities. Vatsala Kirtani, MD, an oncologist at TAMC, and her husband Celso Dias, MD, a vascular surgeon at TAMC, know all too well what kind of busy and dedicated lives doctors lead.
Dr. Kirtani and Dr. Dias met at medical school in India. Dr. Kirtani was completing an internship and Dr. Dias was working on his surgical residency. Maybe it was because of the intense time commitment involved in being a medical student, but relationships among the students were fairly normal.
“That’s what happens when people spend a lot of time together,” said Dr. Kirtani.
Being married medical professionals has both benefits and drawbacks, but Dr. Dias and Dr. Kirtani have taken steps over the years to make sure the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. That’s part of the reason they both ended up working at TAMC. They had never worked for the same organization before and that caused its own set of problems. Besides wanting to find a great place to raise their almost 14-year-old daughter, Nechelle, where both parents would be nearby, the couple was hoping that working closer together would give them more opportunity to spend time with each other and their family.
“We were looking for a job under the same roof,” explained Dr. Dias. “There weren’t too many places that offered us jobs together. TAMC was maybe one of two choices and TAMC looked like the better of the two.”
Dr. Kirtani added, “It definitely works out in more ways than one. It’s convenient and we share more.”
Sharing is important for both Dr. Kirtani and Dr. Dias. Because they both work as doctors, they are able to have a unique understanding of the pressures of the field, even if their specific needs for support from their spouse differ. For instance, Dr. Kirtani regularly deals with difficult emotions related to treating her cancer patients and might come home emotionally exhausted, whereas Dr. Dias’s schedule is more demanding due to the unpredictable nature of surgery, and therefore he may find himself more physically tired by the time he comes home at night.
“Sometimes he comes home really exhausted and I get it,” explained Dr. Kirtani about her husband. “We understand each other a lot more than other couples might. If Celso comes home at 9:30 and says he had a bypass, I just get it. One time, my daughter had a concert in Houlton and just as we were about to leave he got a call. We don’t have a fight about why were you late – we never have those kinds of fights.”
There are other benefits to being married doctors, too – like having easy access to a specialist in another field of medicine when a particularly difficult case presents. Occasionally, there is even an overlap in patients, such as when a cancer patient may need surgery.
“I think the pluses are you can unload a lot of medical stuff on your partner that your partner will understand, whereas, if it was somebody from a non-medical field, I wouldn’t discuss it at all. You wouldn’t be able to gain their input,” said Dr. Dias.
Of course, Dr. Dias is quick to point out that sometimes, though, for the sake of maintaining a balance, talking medicine is the last thing a doctor wants to do when he or she goes home at night.
“You don’t want to be talking shop at home,” he said. “You want variety and something else to talk about. You want somebody to talk about engineering.”
That’s why Dr. Dias and Dr. Kirtani make a point of finding things outside of their life’s calling to spend time doing together. They make a point to schedule the same time off when possible because even catching lunch together during the week when they are both working at the hospital can be tough. Dr. Kirtani jokes that they can sometime have a “half lunch” together.
“We used to have lunch together, but it started to become so crazy. We try, but it is not always possible. We both grab lunch when we can. It happens sometimes when we’re in the cafeteria and I see him.”
“It’s very rare when I will be free during the lunch hour. The last time we had lunch together was about six months ago,” added Dr. Dias.
In recent years, both Dr. Dias’ and Dr. Kirtani’s schedules have become even busier. Dr. Dias is in his third year as TAMC’s Surgical Department chair, and Dr. Kirtani has expanded her role, now seeing patients at Houlton Regional Hospital as part of a shared services arrangement between TAMC and the Southern Aroostook Hospital.
“The best time when we spend together is when we are completely away from the hospital because being here it’s hard to be emotionally away from your work,” said Dr. Kirtani.
They enjoy going to New York and watching Broadway shows because when they used to live there, that’s what they would do. Though Dr. Dias enjoys snowmobiling, Dr. Kirtani is less fond of winter outdoor sports, so she spends her rare spare time in the winter reading. When they travel, and in the summertime, however, they both enjoy trying new things and enjoying the outdoors. Recently, they’ve tried kayaking, canoeing, hot air balloon rides and horseback riding. Finding time to spend together is both difficult and essential, but working at TAMC does help to make it possible.
“Being two doctors it is hard to connect,” said Dr. Dias. “Even when I come home, my mind is still on patients. We try to go somewhere every three months or so. At TAMC we don’t have any issue taking the time off together, that’s the great thing about TAMC.”
Home life can be tricky as well, but somehow, even with their hectic schedules, the doctors manage. During the earlier years of their daughter’s childhood, their jobs made it hard for both parents to attend things like her school shows or kindergarten graduation – that sort of thing most often fell on Dr. Kirtani’s shoulders since her work schedule was more routine than her husband’s.
Dr. Kirtani’s schedule means she is usually the first one home at night, and so normal house chores such as cleaning and cooking are her responsibility, while Dr. Dias maintains the household bills and tries to catch up on outdoor chores when he has time. Their typical day begins around 6 a.m. and Dr. Kirtani is usually home by 6:30 p.m., whereas Dr. Dias is seldom home before 7 and often much later.
“There are things you need to do in your personal life that you can’t find time for,” said Dr. Dias.
Still, they both love their jobs and wouldn’t have it any other way. Their daughter may or may not decide to follow in her parent’s footsteps someday, but as of right now, she’s thinking a career in journalism might suit her better, and mom and dad think that will be just fine.