There are nights Dr. Christopher Branche has to spend in the operating room, away from his family, and there are nights he has to cancel dinner reservations with his wife.
But the long hours don’t exasperate her. She gets it; she’s a doctor, too.
Chris and his wife, Dr. Karol Watson, both understand the pressures and the obligations of practicing medicine and the adage that if there’s someone “weaker [and] sicker, then we gotta go,” Karol explained.
Chris is an anesthesiologist at Long Beach Memorial and Karol a cardiologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Between their patients and their four kids, husband and wife have hectic schedules, but still manage to make time for a love they started cultivating over two decades ago.
“Sometimes it’s just as spontaneous as a tray of cheese [and] a couple of glasses of wine when there’s a half-hour break in the homework action,” Chris said. “Other times it’s a nice dinner or show, which is a little harder to coordinate, but we make the time.”
Chris and Karol originally met through a mutual friend. Well, Chris met Karol.
“I was a resident and I was exhausted. I was sleeping when I met him,” she said, laughing.
Time passed and the pair re-connected. Karol was still in medical school at Harvard when she and her best friend traveled to her home state of California for a conference. Chris, recently graduated from Case Western Reserve in his home city of Cleveland, was a fellow at UC San Diego.
“Her friend came down to San Diego to hang out with me and unbeknownst to me had a wingman… I said to myself, ‘Okay, I could go one of two ways here but I like the wingman better,’” he said, laughing.
When Karol left, Chris called her parents to track her down – how he found them, she still doesn’t know – because he had a feeling ‘the wingman’ would be ‘the one.’
They started getting to know each other over the phone. When Karol finished school she moved back to L.A. for an internship at UCLA and they dated sporadically and whenever they could find the time.
“It was never like, ‘See you Friday night at 8.’ It was like, ‘I’m on call and I’ll get out around 10.’ We couldn’t actually make many plans,” Karol said.
In that respect, nothing’s really changed.
They were together five years before they married. In the years since, they have been perfecting the art of juggling demanding jobs, including Chris’ basketball, football and soccer coaching gigs and their four most important priorities – Afton, 26, Logan, 15, Kaycee, 12, and Corrie, 9.
They lean on each other for support, both personal and professional, when the going gets rough.
“It’s really nice to be able to deconstruct some of the really awful things we see,” Karol said. “There are times we’re like, ‘Guess what I saw today,’ and we have dueling awful stories… Some stuff you just have to get off your chest, share the misery.”
It’s a part of the job that both husband and wife can understand. The other advantage of working in the same industry, but specializing in different fields, is that they can each play off the other’s professional strengths.
“I’ll call him and ask which anesthetic is best and what he’d use, and he’s become honestly better at preventive cardiology than many of my colleagues,” Karol said, laughing.
Reflecting on how far he and Karol have come, Chris said, makes him feel grateful for what he has and for the life they’ve created together. “There’s been a lot of living in these 20 years,” he said. “I’m lucky I met her. I’m lucky these kids are who they are. Listen, we all have our days – it ain’t all good, some days are challenges, but I am so lucky.”
This is the fourth in a series of love stories running through Valentine’s Day.
Previously: Beach Valentines: love never forgotten
Previously: Beach Valentines: love around the world
Previously: Beach Valentines: music and mischief