Knock Three Times

By Kim Alden Mallin

It all started with an email to my husband…

“Dear Dr. Mallin:

I am reaching out to share an opportunity that may be of interest to you or a physician educator in your network. American University of Antigua, AUA, is conducting a search for a Chair of Introduction to Clinical Medicine within the Universities’ School of Medicine. This is a unique opportunity to influence the future of medicine and medical care within the US while living in the Caribbean…”

He forwarded it to me, stating he had jokingly replied with a CV. My remark – “For real? Perfect, I’ll get a job at Eric Clapton’s tx ctr there,” to which he replied only with a smiley face. Granted we loved the Caribbean; love diving, enjoy traveling there; had friends on several islands. And my husband was getting a little bored with his job and was looking for a challenge. But move? Leave Charleston? No way. Not going to happen.

Four days later, we were invited to Antigua for interviews. We decided to go, figuring that the free trip to Antigua was worth it. Thinking, “What is the worse thing that can happen? – We could like it and decide to move there.”…still a win-win situation in our minds. We either stayed in Charleston or moved to the Caribbean. How bad could it be?

The island, with its 365 beautiful beaches, was breathtaking. The resort we stayed in – not so much. The beach was great, and the staff friendly, but every night there was karaoke being sung loudly outside of our rooms until way past my bedtime. And not good karaoke either…if you can imagine a bunch of international tourists (meaning strange accents) drunk and singing the “Hokey Pokey.” Which actually sounded a little better than the runner up favorite of “Knock Three Times.” I hated that song back in the 70s when Tony Orlando and Dawn sang it, and I still do.

But the school was impressive, and the faculty excited about their plans to make the Caribbean medical school into one that could compete with U.S. schools. By the second day there, I knew in my heart that we were going to move. And realizing that, I found myself having to fight back tears.

How bad could it be, right?

Next thing I knew, we were handing in our three month notices.

It was quite a difficult decision – much harder than I thought it would be. After all, we weren’t committing to forever, just a few years. Yes, it is a great opportunity, and yes, it is a beautiful island, and yes…I could go on and on. After giving notice, I had moments of disbelief and excitement; to be living many people’s dream, to be able to dive whenever, never wear heavy coats, not have the hassle of being limited to 10 minute patient visits…there were many positives to it. And don’t get me wrong, going there was a mutual decision, and I was as excited about this adventure as was my husband.

It wasn’t going to be all sunshine and coral though…there were negatives. I had wanted to be a doctor since I was 14, spent a few years as a surgery resident and then was unable to practice medicine for several years. I struggled to get back into medicine and truly treasured my profession. I loved what I did. I loved my patients and my office staff. And even though I was talking to the staff at Crossroads, Eric Clapton’s drug and alcohol treatment center, there were no guarantees that I would ever be able to get a license on the island. It’s very difficult for a U.S.-trained doctor to get a medical license there. At first I would be teaching at the medical school three days a week – not a bad job but not my dream.

That was the main negative. Others included things like being far from family, no 5k or 10k runs every weekend, no air conditioning, no bathtub or clothes dryer in the house, no Target or Stella Nova. No Publix. But I figured I could live without them, at least for awhile. And I ultimately decided that a few years as a medical school professor could only strengthen my professional knowledge.

Those three months were so hard. Saying good-bye to patients often left us all crying. I couldn’t imagine not hanging out and laughing with my co-workers. And with my running buddies, cycling friends and folks from my12 step program, I had so many different groups to say good-bye to that I actually ended up with several going-away parties.

It was at one of those parties that I had one of those “ah-ha moments.” I looked around that room and remembered where I came from. Growing up we moved every year or two due to my dad’s job. I had always envied people who had friends that they grew up with – those who shared memories of 1st grade, their first period and their first boyfriend. The ones who remembered the metal braces and disappointments over who did or didn’t ask them to the prom; the friends, especially women, who really knew and loved one another. I never had that. Over those years, I had developed a coping mechanism to allow me to be okay with leaving people behind, to not hurt too much. I learned to be superficially friendly, and do what I needed to do to fit in. I became a chameleon. I never realized who I was and I never really let anyone else in…especially not women. I had always felt lonely and like an outsider. Sometimes all I thought I wanted out of life was to fit in.

At that party, I looked around the room, filled with laughing, beautiful, bright, outgoing, caring women; friends from all the parts of my life. Who actually KNEW me…and loved me. My heart was full as I realized that I had finally figured out who I was and that I had the life I had always wanted. I finally fit in.

And yet, I was leaving this all behind. Amazingly, instead of sorrow for what I was “losing,” I felt hope for what I might find on this new journey. I felt that since I was taking “me” with me, that same multifaceted woman with an open heart and mind could develop meaningful relationships wherever I went.

I’ll let you know how that turns out…

About this writer

  • Kim Alden Mallin Taking a break from her life as a family doc in Charleston S.C, Kim Alden Mallin is currently living in Antigua with her husband, teaching at the American University of Antigua School of Medicine. Her days off are spent scuba diving, writing and improving her road race times by running up the hills of Antigua.

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One Response to “Knock Three Times”

  1. Patricia Harris says:

    “_You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes you get what you need” (Rolling Stones) How about You never know what what you got until it is gone. Nice to see you writing/published again

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