My name is Wendy Palastro. I have two primary roles in life. One is that of a “working mother”, balancing my time in my job with my time as “mom.” I am also a busy, hard working “family physician.” I love having two very fulfilling jobs in my life. Patients sometimes ask me, “How do you do it all?” I usually give a short but honest answer that I need to pick and choose what I can accomplish each day, and I must sacrifice things to reach my goals. It can be challenging and sometimes impossible to fit everything into the 24 hours a day I am allotted. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a 25 hour day instead?)
I am so grateful for my accomplishments and successes in my life. I owe a lot of my success and growth to what I have overcome. I have faced challenges in my training, in my own health, and in my growth as a full time doctor and mother.
In my college years, I opted to join the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, i.e. NROTC, at my university, Carnegie Mellon. I have always been introverted and shy. In my sophomore year of college, I took it upon myself to try something very “out of the box” to not only confront my weaknesses, but also to further my world experiences and to see how far I could push my mind and body. My parents were unsurprisingly shocked by my choice, but they were supportive. I embraced and enjoyed the challenges, particularly my leadership roles and the physical fitness tests.
At the end of my Naval ROTC training, I chose to enter the Naval flight pipeline. I again used my goal of doing something uncomfortable to drive me further. What could be more exhilarating (and terrifying) than flying a plane?
At the start of my training, I learned to fly in a Cessna in a civilian flight school. I learned the nuts and bolts of flight – learning the physics of flight, understanding how weather and wind can affect things, and learning how to actually “fly.” At first, it was with the comfort of a teacher beside me, and then quite scarily, on my own for my first solo fight! The moment I landed that plane myself, with my instructor running over, beaming, was one of my proudest moments.
One year or so into my time in the Navy, I was given a unique opportunity to leave the military due to decreasing personnel needs. After my honorable discharge from the Navy, I started my next quest of becoming a medical doctor.
As any doctor or resident can tell you, medical training is tough. The first two years of my training consisted of knowledge-building, memorizing huge amounts of information and taking exam after exam. It also included some basic introductions to history taking, physical exam, and the unique patient-physician relationship. The second two years of my training included “clinical rotations” in various medical specialities. I would shadow other physicians, learning by seeing and doing under the tutelage of nurses, residents, and attendings.
At the end of medical school, I chose family medicine for my specialty. I had an inkling at the start of medical school I would choose primary care, but I tried to have an open mind. As I realized I liked a bit of all specialties, I realized that family medicine was the career path for me.
I “matched” into family medicine in my hometown of Pittsburgh, at an excellent program, UPMC St. Margaret Family Medicine Residency. I was truly terrified on my first day of residency. (I think I was more terrified that first day than the day of my solo flight several years prior!)
I recall sitting at rounds on my very first day of residency, feeling nauseated and incredibly anxious, questioning if I could actually do what I needed to do. Fortunately, that feeling slowly subsided as I gained more time on my feet and more. I remember scrambling around on day rounds, seeing all of my patients and placing appropriate orders, to drive then to office hours. I spent time in several different “specialty” blocks, including obstetrics, pediatrics, and general surgery. These blocks gave me glimpses of many different aspects of medicine, and helped me learn several skills things that would serve me well in my career.
I will never forget the most stress-provoking part of training – “night float”. This consisted of several 2 week stretches throughout my training, which were times I was on duty during the “night shift” at the hospital. One other resident and I shared responsibilities for our residency service of patients. We also more importantly served as the “eyes and ears” of the entire community hospital, serving not only our own patients but also cross covering the patients of the other private community PCP’s. I was expected to complete at least a handful of admissions from the emergency room each night. At the same time, my pager would be constantly buzzing, with numerous outpatient calls from our office patients, and the hospital nurses asking for orders or requests for me to evaluate and manage very sick patients. There was hardly ever a dull moment on night float.
My 3rd year of training was also challenging as I had my first child. To all the moms out there, you know how strange and hard pregnancy can be. Adding it to a vigorous and demanding job was not easy. I think the added challenge forced me more focused and organized in my life and work goals.
I remember being thrust into the role of “doctor” right from 1st day of residency, with little confidence or experience to start with. The other physicians training me and working with me, however, continued to mentor me and encourage me in my journey. They reassured me I had the “right stuff” to succeed and finish the program, and they were certainly correct. It took me my full 3 years of training to realize they were right, and to truly feel comfortable with my title of “doctor.”
I transitioned to my full time attending position as family doctor in Pittsburgh in 2014. I feel this transition was seamless thanks to the rigorous training I received at St. Margaret.
About 2 years into my attending job, my husband and I joke we had a moment of temporary insanity. At that time, we had our second child.
I took 3 months of maternity leave after my son was born. I thought this would provide plenty of time to bond with both of my children and to get needed rest. Upon return to my full time job, however, I continued to feel overwhelming exhaustion. I attributed this at first to the challenge of juggling home life with a husband and 2 young kids, and working full time. As things continued and worsened, however, I started to subconsciously wonder if there was anything more to this. I kept ignoring the symptoms until my mother expressed concerns. She noticed I was losing more weight than she thought I should, and implied I should seek care.
I saw my provider in the fall of 2016, which is when I was diagnosed with Graves Disease. I underwent several tests, including bloodwork, an ultrasound, and na uclear thyroid scan, to arrive at the diagnosis. I was initiated on a medication called methimazole. The dose was slowly adjusted, and it took about 2-3 months to have resolution of my symptoms. I fortunately went into remission after about 7 months of medication.
In retrospect, I now realize that Graves Disease has probably been with me since childhood. As I mentioned, I had significant fatigue and weight loss after my second child’s birth, more so than usual. In that pregnancy and post partum period, I believe my disease worsened, prompting me to finally seek care. My fatigue and weight loss fortunately resolved with appropriate treatment. I also had several other symptoms resolve with treatment as well, symptoms I had no awareness of until they were gone. These included anxiety, palpitations, and shortness of breath with exertion.
Wait! You may be thinking, how could this doctor not realize she had these symptoms? It was incredibly eye-opening at that point in my life to realize I had missed these symptoms, despite years of medical training and diagnosing them in others. I think that this self analysis was incredibly humbling. I now feel I truly know myself and my body.
Today, I balance my time as a busy full time physician, a wife, and mother of two. My daughter and son keep me hopping at home, and my camera is always overflowing with photos of them. I feel very blessed by my family. I am also honored to care for my patients each and every day. My day job is challenging but also incredibly rewarding.
I hope you enjoyed reading more about my life and learning a bit more about me. I look forward to growing my blog, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
I would love to hear from you!