Patience is a Vertex

August 19, 2011

At the beginning of this year, I set two goals for myself under the heading “Physical Activity / Fitness”:

  • Ride FAR in September (5-day, 500 mile bike ride)
  • Chicago Marathon in October

In the spring, I learned Ride FAR wasn’t going to happen, but that a 2-day, 150 mile ride to support Phinney’s Friends would. In truth, this was a much more realistic goal for me, so I gladly swapped the two.

Last week, on my 15th wedding anniversary, exactly 1 month out from Phinney’s and 1 day shy of 2 months for Chicago, I wrecked my scooter, avoiding a less-than-aware pedestrian who stepped into my line of travel. Quick brakes on wet pavement sent me flying a couple of car lengths. I sat up in the gutter, shirt shredded, shoulder and neck immediately sore, what felt like broken ribs, a bunch of skin missing from my elbows and left hand, assorted odd shapes popping up on fingers, and the one thing I didn’t realize at the time, a pretty good bump to the head. A trip to the ER and a follow-up with my PCP resulted in the bad news – neither of my goals that I’d been working towards were going to be met now. I had no broken bones, but I did have a concussion.

This is now Day 9 of recovery from the crash. I was able to put my wedding rings back on this morning. My scrapes have almost all healed up. My shoulder and neck are still really sore, but I can move them more and more every day. On the outside, I’m looking and feeling pretty good.

Inside my head though, things are different. Writing these brief few paragraphs is taking way longer than I’m used to. I have to stop in between every few sentences to close my eyes or look away from the screen to, for lack of a better description, rebalance my head. I can look at a magazine or a book for a few minutes. I can watch television as long as I mute the commercials (okay I admit I always have to do that to prevent headaches) and I can just close my eyes and listen to follow along. In other words, giving attention to anything is still pretty hard.

Before this past week, I don’t think I could have imagined getting a bunch of days off to be home, a break from work, all the time I wanted to rest and nap… and hating it. I’d love to be lying around, if only it was my choice. And I’d LOVE a week home to DO lots of the things that I really enjoy doing; reading, writing, drawing pictures, watching movies. I could even take 10 days of not being able to go outside, go for a walk alone, go for a run, go for a bike ride, if only my head would quit reminding me that it’s not really my choice that I’m not up to any of those things yet. I have realized this week just how much I do not like my head not cooperating with the rest of me.

So patience is the peak attribute that I’m looking for right now. My doc – and more than a few friends – tell me it’s the thing I need most. I was flipping through the July issue of Competitor magazine this morning and saw a nice, 10-week training schedule to prepare for a 5K run. Starting over. I’m already plotting when I can begin, but knowing there’s another part of my brain that’s going to have the last say in that decision.

New Goal: Patience

of two minds

July 19, 2011

I’ve been struggling with a resentment lately. I really don’t like doctors. I don’t like medical students. I don’t like biomedical researchers or others who think, based solely on the status of their position in life,that they are smarter than me, better than me, and entitled to certain things more than me or any other person not in their class.

I admit it’s my thing – at least a lot of it is. It’s true that our medical system is set up in such a way that it’s quite easy for doctors to believe they’re better and smarter and entitled. It’s easy for them to come to believe that they’re the the ones most in charge or the most important. It’s an incredibly competitive field filled with some very large egos. That’s all true. It doesn’t in any way apply to every single doctor out there, but there’s certainly enough truth in it to create the stereotype.

Me, I have an ego too, which is a big part of why I struggle with the resentment. Trying to accept this, I decided to read a couple of books out of the Humanities in Medicine collection of the library where I work (a medical school library) so that I could hopefully get a better feeling, perhaps even some empathy, for those practicing medicine all around me. I picked out Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen and The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Both are well-known books by well-known writers and doctors – doctors who also happen to have reputations for being very good at being human, too. I figured they could help me.

I’ve enjoyed the books. Both Remen and Gawande are natural storytellers. They write in a way that lets someone like me, who doesn’t know much about medicine from a personal standpoint, better understand the work they do. There have been pieces that annoy me, such as the mention by Remen of the beach house that she visited during a difficult time in her years as a med student. It was a house owned by her medical school, opened to students and physicians; a place they could go to regroup when going through stressful times. As I read this bit I couldn’t help but think (hear sarcastic tone), “Oh how nice. A little place for them to get away when they’ve worked hard. I wonder if schools of social work have such a thing for their students and faculty. Or teachers. I surely don’t remember such when I was in seminary.”

See? Resentment. But these bits aside, the stories the authors tell do give me a better picture of at least their respective worlds and as I read, I realized more clearly that part about “I don’t know much about medicine from a personal standpoint” and just how much this plays into my resentment. Ignorance can make us bigoted and hateful and mean. It can also make us resentful. I think I started to put these pieces together when Gawande, a writer who offers a lot of statistics in describing and/or making an argument, mentions that the average American has 7 surgeries in his/her lifetime.

My reaction: Average. Seven. SEVEN? Really? No way!

I react this way because I am 48 years old, likely well past the half-way point of my life, and I haven’t had a single surgery yet. I’ve never broken a bone, never had a serious disease or infection, never spent the night in a hospital, never spent more than a few days in bed with anything. I’ve been fortunate in the sense of good genes, good luck, and some good work on my part to keep healthy. That said, it started to become much easier for me to see why I don’t have a clue what goes on in a hospital. I know about a doctor’s office from having a physical every so many years, but that’s about it. I’m guilty of making a whole lot of assumptions, of having a whole lot of strong opinions, and of harboring a good bit of resentment simply out of my own lack of understanding and/or appreciation for what doctors do. Maybe it really is stressful. Maybe they really are busy. Maybe I just didn’t know.

This is a good step, I think, towards helping me to stop glaring at some of the white-coated people I pass in the hallway or the med students who won’t listen to any suggestions I might offer for navigating through a particular database. I think I can let a little bit of it go. And I think in this one instance, I’ll be thankful for my ignorance. Here, it’s a sign of my good health.