Stitch fix

This hobby helps me cope with my grueling medical training

My hobby doesn’t particularly reveal my inner self to the outside world. But I’ve realized that it does benefit me in ways that I haven’t always been aware of over the years.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

In my second week of third-year rotations, I was working with a senior resident. The attending had left us in charge of suturing the tiny incisions made during our patient’s hernia repair. As we were working, here came the dreaded question: “Do you know how to do this?”

Gulp. “I do, yes,” I responded. “But I’m not as good as I’d like to be.”

Silence. I can’t let the answer end there.

“Do you know what cross-stitching is?” I asked. “Like, embroidery? The thing that old ladies do?”

“Oh yeah, yeah!” said the resident.

One of Eldin's cross-stitching pieces, this is a kitchen-themed work showcasing a tomato, carrots and an eggplant.

“I’ve been doing that for 25 years now, and as good as I am at that, it surprisingly hasn’t translated to suturing,” I explained.

This is indeed true. In the 1990s, during one of the rare uneventful days on our family’s annual summer vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey, I looked out the window of the restaurant where we were sitting and noticed something that I never had before. Across the street hung a wooden sign, gently swinging in the Atlantic Ocean breeze, bearing an image of a canine and only two words: Salty Dog. It was unclear what type of inventory they sold, and my curiosity took over as I insisted that my mom take me there after we finished eating.

Eldin captured a scene from Disney's Snow White in this cross-stitch piece.

To my surprise, it was a store devoted to needlework, boasting shelves of supplies for every art form involving needles and threads. Knitting hadn’t worked out for me the year before, so I picked up a cross-stitching pack that contained everything I needed to begin. The rest is history.

‘That’s your meditation’

In the 25 years since that I’ve been stitching, I’ve made gifts for others, started projects only to never finish them (yet), created my own patterns and taken long hiatuses when my school or work schedule got too busy. Cross stitching is such an integral part of me that it is one of the first things I mention when people ask me what I like to do for fun.

Pop psychology will offer that our hobbies reveal certain things about us. I will shamelessly agree that yes, I am somewhat of an old lady — I complain when music gets too loud, I can quote The Golden Girls from memory, and I will promptly fall asleep at any time of day if my seat is just a bit too comfy (this may also be a side effect of being a medical student).

However, cross-stitching has offered the world a very inaccurate picture of who I am. One of the most commonly repeated phrases I hear is, “I could never do that, I don’t have the patience for it.” Anyone who has known me for more than 15 minutes will tell you that I am one of the least patient people you will ever meet. So, let’s take that off the list as a reason to not pursue the hobby.

So my hobby doesn’t particularly reveal my inner self to the outside world. But I’ve realized that it does benefit me in ways that I haven’t always been aware of over the years.   

Eldin portrayed a silhouette in this cross-stitch piece.

“That’s your meditation,” my cousin said a few years back after watching me in action. She is a yoga teacher and has known me since I was born, so she was able to astutely put all the pieces together.

Meditation can be what you want it to be

Most people in the medical field and other high-stress jobs have been told to find time to meditate countless times. When my cousin made the above observation, I was confused, because I thought that sitting still doing nothing in a relaxed state was the only ‘real’ way to meditate (and, if you recall from a few paragraphs back my particular lack of patience, you can see how I thought that it wasn’t for me).

She quickly clarified this commonly held misconception by explaining that as long as we are focused on one thing in front of us and can find our minds clear of the clutter that usually weighs us down, we are, in fact, meditating.

I was elated. I realized I no longer had to feel like a failure for not being able to do the sit-still type of meditation. My perfectionist, type-A personality was forgiven! But more importantly, I had discovered that this simple ‘hobby’ that I had taken up as a child had taken on a life of its own and worked its way into a very important position in my current life.

I began spreading the word to my classmates and found that they, too, unknowingly had found hobbies that put them in a meditative state and helped them get through grueling medical training.

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? How when we are not consciously seeing to our own self-care, a part of us knows to take over to make it happen, without any specific intention behind it.

So, I suppose it doesn’t really matter that the needle I wield on my own spare time has not helped me in doing the same in the OR. In fact, I’d say it’s even better that they occupy their own separate identities in my life. And I’m going to keep it that way.

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  1. Nicholas J Caputo, DO FACOI

    Your story conjured up memories of my family vacations ‘down the Shore’ in Wildwood and Ocean City where I picked up an annual ritual of purchasing a book from Atlantic Books on the Boardwalk. I have passed the tradition of going to the bookstore for a Summer read to my children in hopes that they find a book to lose some time in, er meditate. Thank you for sharing your story! Life experiences do translate into the Practice of Medicine.

  2. Vincent J Granowicz, DO

    Very interesting. We didn’t really have time for hobbies as a student. 45+hours in class room and then meals and study gave us no time for such. I guess times have changed. an occasional movie or party was about all there was time for, if you kept your sleep time to about 6 Hrs.

  3. Paul Claassen, DO KCCOM '74

    my hobby of woodworking and carving has served me well during my career as a general surgeon and ER doc. I am retired now and the hobby still is prominent in winding me down as I feel at times I get so busy with grandchildren and life in general I wonder how I had any time to work when I was in my professional years.

  4. Kenneth Schafermeyer

    I found in the middle of my family practice the life and absorption of argentine tango dancing : lower stress, great social skill when you need a night out once a month, and , it is not germaine to anything in medicine ( besides great exercise, strengthening the core , meeting people in new communities , etc. ) . Try it . You will like it . Dr. Kenneth Schafermeyer.

  5. Chet Morrison

    I’m north of 50 and I recently took up piano playing again (I had a few years as a child, always had an interest in music, and it certainly helped pass the Covid time, not that I worked any less hard). I’m not good at it, but it sure does unwind me

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