"Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful."
~Mark Victor Hansen
I didn't decide to go to medical school until the second semester of my junior year in college. I knew it would take a lot of preparation and would be a long road. For many who decide to go to medical school, we realized we would have to sacrifice. It would be long road; but in the end, we would accomplish our ultimate goal. Whether it be to save lives, to save the world, or to have a stable income, our goals helped dive us forward into medical school understanding that we would lose countless hours of sleep, time with family, and about a decade of the most productive time of our lives. For many, the pure thought of competition is what drives us to succeed.
On Saturday, I was at the Chicago Marathon expo picking up my bib, chip, and T-shirt. there were people of all ages and sizes. All with a common goal, the Chicago marathon. Whether their primary goal was for a specific time and others for the spirit of completing, they were all there for the purpose of completing the 26.2 mile Everest. A video played on one of the screen showing the marathon from the previous year. It showed the winners sprint to the finish. Then, at the end of the video, the runners didn't have that thin marathoner build. They came in all shapes and sizes. They crossed the finish line at 5 or 6 hours, everyone so proud of completing their primary goal. I almost teared.For me, medical school wasn't that hard. That is not to say I had an easy time with it, but the material itself was not that hard. It was just a lot of information. Some people in medical school buckle under the pressure. They study too much or too little. They don't pace themselves through the mentally trying time of medical school. You must understand your strengths and weaknesses. It is not a sprint. Mental stamina was required for survival.
On Sunday, we all walked to our positions. I stood next to a man and we talked. The marathon bound us. The national anthem was sung. At the end, we all clapped. The starter sounds and the crowed moves forward. Everyone was smiling. That wouldn't
last for long. I was already sweating. Step, Step ... Breathe.
Step, Step, .... Breathe. At the forth mile, I asked myself, Why? It is the same question that I ask every race. In a marathon, the question usually comes up somewhere between mile 16 and 22. This race it was at mile 4. I knew it was a going to be difficult and I adjusted my pace as well as water intake. I had a plan. You always need a plan. This was not the time to take risks. I knew this would not be a record setting pace. I just wanted to survive.Residency was different problem. It was particularly demanding. There was both mental and physical fatigue. At times, you had to sprint; other times, the pace slowed and you were able to take in the scenery and enjoy your time.
Step, step .... breathe. At the half way point, I was in the shade. My legs felt good. I was still well hydrated. I decided to quicken my pace to my usual marathon pace. That lasted for 2 miles until the shade ended. I came to the realization that to finish was an accomplishment. I slowed my pace again and decided to enjoy the spectators. I high five'd the little kids and asked the crowed for more cowbell. At one point, I was running with a man from New Zealand. It was his first marathon. It was winter in New Zealand. So, this weather was rather brutal on him. We ran and talked about rugby. Then we somehow got split up.Because of the harsh circumstances of the residency environment, I developed very close bonds with those in my residency and others from my internship. Had we not been in residency together, we may have never become friends. We all were very different. These differences ranged from our political views to religion to personal style, but the common bond of out harsh environment cemented relationships that survive to this day.
Step, Step .... Breathe. At mile 18, there were only 8 miles to go, but the heat was draining every ounce of mental fortitude out of me. I noticed that the general mood had changed. It was hot, there was no breeze, and no shade. The general flow of the runners went from a brisk pace at the beginning to almost a walk. I looked on as runner after runner looked for medical attention. It was more like a war zone than a race. There were IV bags hanging in the medical tents. I kept hearing the sirens of passing ambulances. Spectators attended to the fallen runners who did not make it to the aid stations. People showered the runners with the from their house. Spectators brought water from their own homes to help.When I completed residency, I thought I was finished. I would get a job and everything would be right in the world. I would be like the normal people. I would be like the "humans" who had regular lives. I would take weekends like regular people. The competing would be done and I would sail off into the sunset completing all of my goals.
Step, Step ... Breathe. I passed the mile 25 marker. It was hot. A man shouted, "the race has been cancelled." I thought my hearing must be going. So, I kept running like Forest Gump. People continued to cheer on the runners. The finish line was different from what I remembered. This time I actually saw all of the people cheering the runners on. I heard people shouting, "Keep running ... You can do it ... Your almost there." I crossed the finish line again. It was more gratifying than before because the obstacles were greater.Goals change as time goes on. My major academic goals accomplished, but I continue to be driven to find new adventures. As much as I like to challenge my mind, I also like to push my body to extremes. I have realized that normal is a dial on the washing machine. Normal for me is driving to the next goal or destination. It is what keeps me alive, what keeps me from getting stale.
I met up with my family at the meeting place. My kids were dirty from playing in the dirt. My daughter hands me a flower and gives me a hug. My son jumps in my arms. "I love you dad," my daughter says. We check out from the hotel and drive back home. In the car, we were already making plans for the next marathon. Step, Step .... Breathe.
"Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose."