I have to keep reminding myself that we’ve arrived. Our ship is now visible on the horizon. It doesn’t feel the way I thought it would. It doesn’t feel real.
It took ten years to get here. It took so long that I had given up already. The first year I was married, we lived off of my teaching salary. I remember counting my change one day and being happy that it would buy me lunch at Taco Bell. Seriously. I was driving over an hour one way to get to my job, filling up my gas tank twice a week and always worried I was going to blow a tire on the interstate. If that had happened, I have no idea who I would have called for help. We didn’t know anyone there.
My husband applied for his work permit and green card that year. The work permit went through relatively quickly, but we never heard anything about the green card. The immigration system was a nonsensical maze, and my husband, who was immigrating as the spouse of a citizen, was supposed to be able to get the green card with no problems. My husband took and failed his first United States Medical Licensing Exam that year–the first step of four exams, lasting an entire day each. My husband also needed his medical credentials from his home country verified by the Educational Comission for Foreign Medical Graduates. His very first correspondance from the ECFMG told him that they could’t verify anything because his name was spelled differently on his passport than it was on his medical school diploma. I was scared all of the time–a kind of low-grade fear that I walked around carrying just under the surface. What if we had screwed up something with my husband’s immigration paperwork and he had to leave the country? What if he couldn’t meet the requirements to get his medical license in the United States? What if…what if…what if everything that we dreamed of doing and being was beyond our reach? I didn’t allow myself to think about that. Those thoughts were too painful.
We moved closer to my job the next year. I started working on my master’s degree. My husband retook and passed the first USMLE. I made friends. We figured out what had happened with my husband’s green card. We didn’t correctly report our address change to the immigration folks. Luckily, some of my friends knew lawyers who were able to help us out–without charging us. I became hopeful.
My husband took and passed the remaining steps of the USMLE. After five years, his medical diploma from his home country was verified by the ECFMG as being equivalent to a U.S. medical degree. Five years. This was because the first time the ECFMG contacted someone in his home country to verify the degree, they were ignored. My husband gave the ECFMG another person to contact, and the ECFMG re-submitted everything. The wait was nerve-wracking. Just one small cog in a frightening huge wheel.
Each year my husband applied to hundreds of residency programs, the last step he would have to complete before being eligible for his medical license. Each year–nothing. He discovered his clinical experience overseas was not relevant in the U.S.–even though that clinical experience was gained during the five years he was working as a physician in his home country. He changed jobs so that he could gain clinical experience in the United States. The job he got paid about $10 an hour. To be eligible to do that job, he only had to be a high school graduate and pass an exam. It turns out, a medical degree really isn’t useful unless you can get a job as a doctor.
My husband finally got his U.S. citizenship in a ceremony during which he shook the hands of the president and the governor. The following winter he got one interview for a residency program. Still–nothing. The year after that he got four interviews. Nothing. By this time we had invested thousands of dollars in fees for the U.S. medical licensing exams and in application fees, which were required each time my husband applied to a residency program. We created a plan B. I gave up. We agreed that my husband would apply to just a few programs the next year. He got only one interview. Except… Except the interview he got was with a program that had interviewed him the year before. After the interview, my husband got a nice letter from the program director talking up the program and thanking him for interviewing. And I knew.
There’s more to this story. My husband’s acceptance into a residency program set off another round of difficulties that we’re still dealing with, but that will be for another post.
In my imagination, I always thought it would feel real at this point. I guess the reality is never quite as good as the anticipation.