Sunday, October 25, 2015

A mystery to be lived

"Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived."  Soeren Kirkegaard

It's been a little over 10 months since I've written anything on this blog.  I've been a little busy.  I finished the classroom part of my PA program and have just completed my first rotation.  I was at a bariatric surgery clinic.  In four weeks I participated in ~40 surgeries, rounded on patients in the hospital post-op and saw other patients in the clinic.  Surgery was fascinating to me.  The OR is full of seemingly arbitrary rules, mysterious looking instruments, and the tension of thinking "what if this person woke up right now?"

Clinic was great too - seeing people come for follow-up appointments years after surgery - many of them thanking the surgeon for saving their lives.  I even thought rounding on patients recovering from surgery was fun.  Getting to know patients over the 3-5 days post-op - being allowed to participate in what is a very vulnerable and difficult time for many people.  It is truly a privilege.

I heard the above quote for the first time a few weeks ago and it seemed to ring true to me.  It might sound as though it is a rather "c'est la vie" attitude - but I don't think that's where it comes from.  It's about creating space in our lives.  The quote gets down to why sports, religion, art, music, theater, and movies are so important to keeping us sane.  These things all focus on experiencing the mystery of life - and take us away from our problems and stresses. 

How I would interpret Kirkegaard is that he's saying so much of our lives are completely out of our control.  Where we were born, who our parents are, our genetics, the people who come in and out of our lives - most of these things are up to fate.  I'm not suggesting that we have no responsibility to make our lives what we want them to be - but, too often we get fixated on a preconceived idea of what our lives should be - and we get blinded to what the world is offering us.

I've learned that medicine is also about shaking off disappointment and failure - to search out what you're good at - and grab it by the horns once you've figure it out.  I'm far from finished with that process, but I feel closer to figuring out what I can do that makes me happy everyday than at any other point in my life.

The older I get the more I'm convinced that life is about experiences.  It's about connecting with other people - it's about sharing your story and hearing theirs'.   We many times try to manipulate others into helping us solve our problems.  If you listen to people closely enough you'll find that usually they can't solve your problems the way you initially expected - but that their perspective changes how you view your problems in a way that can make the problems seem to vanish.

By connecting with others we are able to come to a more objective place - a place where our problems don't seem so personal or immediate.  We see them as ethereal and temporary - as is everything in this world.  And from that perspective we're actually better able to deal with them.  If we focus on battling them alone - like Dali's St. Anthony - we actually make ourselves more vulnerable.  We don't have to engage every possible existential threat - sometimes we can merely watch them march on past.

The best example of this happening in my life right now is a knee injury that may be nothing - or it might be the beginning of something bad.  I won't bore you with the exact symptoms - basically it boils down to one of those things that is uncomfortable when I'm running - but doesn't stop me from running.  Maybe it's a meniscus or a patellar tendon that isn't tracking right or a tweaky ligament.  Whatever it is there is definitely a voice in the back of my head saying "maybe this is the big one - maybe all those miles have finally caught up with you and you'll never feel good running again." 

I've seen it happen to more than one running buddy of mine.  But, I'm also at the beginning of a new career, a new adventure.  An adventure that will probably mean as much to me as anything that's happened in my life up to this point.  That's how much I enjoy taking care of patients.

So, maybe this is the end of competing as seriously as I used to - or maybe the knee thing will go away, I'll find a cushy clinic gig and qualify for Kona : )  Who knows.  But whatever happens - I'll try take Kirkegaard's quote to heart and live it more than I try to solve it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Good Year

Over the holidays Kendra and I visited Prince Edward County, Ontario - where they have over 40 wineries.  On the wall of Hinterland Winery is the cross section of dirt and rock shown above.  The point of it is to show what is important to making good wine.  Good soil is important - but even more important is having good rock.  A quality vintage is one when the roots of the grape have plunged into the rock - bringing the taste of minerality and complexity that people enjoy in their wines. 

What causes the roots to penetrate rock?  Struggle.  It happens when conditions above ground are bad.  Usually that means there hasn't been enough rain.  The plant struggles to survive by spreading it's roots deep and wide - searching for water.  The best vintages are therefore marked by years when the plant comes closest to failing.

Anyone who knows my last year might have thought the title of this post was the exact opposite of 2014 for me.  The year started with me coming very close to having to give up on my dream to become a PA.  I fought to stay in my program, and in the end they ended up giving me another shot.  Not only that - they changed the rules, so that anyone who was in my position would be given a second chance.

Those first few months of 2014 were rough.  Like the vine - I was searching for something to give me sustenance.  I was trying to remind myself of what I had of value to offer the world.  That was probably the biggest reason that I self-published part of this blog as a book.  I've always been amazed that anybody reads this blog - but some folks who I really respect have told me they enjoy it - so, I decided to organize my posts from my training for the Boston marathon into a book.

I started writing again too.  While my future was still up in the air I decided to get out of Dodge.  I started driving South to Texas and then West to New Mexico and Arizona.  When I came back from that trip I wrote a lot. 

Around the time that I found out that I would be given a second shot in my program I received an e-mail from a stranger who read my blog.  His name is Glen - he asked me to write out a training plan for him and to coach him.  I had been an assistant coach for my old high school in my early-mid twenties - but I had never coached someone online before.

Glen is in his early-mid forties.  He was a decent runner - but he wanted to break through to the next level.  Glen was a 5k and 10k runner - his main goals were just to get better at those distances.  He had never run more than seven miles.

Glen was the perfect student.  He ran pretty much everything that I planned out for him - even though I'm sure he wasn't 100% confident in my plan at the beginning.  The result was his first Army 10 miler in DC - which made him feel so confident that he decided he needed to do a half-marathon a month later.  And now he's decided he will do a marathon in March - where he hopes to qualify for Boston.

It's been a lot of fun experiencing the joy that Glen has had in his improvement and performances.  As for me - I wasn't sure what I was going to do a the start of the year.  The "good" news was that I had a lot more time for training.  I even contemplated another Ironman - but I decided to focus on running for the first half of the year.  I hadn't run an "all out" half marathon in quite awhile - so I signed up for the Lincoln Half. 

The main thing I added to my training was intensity.  I ran several of the "No Frills" races during the winter - and then I added some tempo workouts in March and April.  The result was my fastest half in quite awhile - I ran 1:13:35 and came in 11th place out of 8900 finishers.  I was excited to see what I could do in my half Ironman scheduled for early June.  Unfortunately, I had an accident with my bike on a rainy day only one week before the race.

There was simply no way I could swim - I had sprained my AC joint in my shoulder.  I had a hard time even sleeping for about a month.  Oh well - that's the kind of year that I had.  I tried to stay in decent running shape and out of the blue came an interesting opportunity.  A group in Iowa was trying to set the world record for a 100 X 5k relay.  They had a few guys drop out - so they needed a few fill-ins.  I didn't run all that fast - but we did break the record.

I haven't written any posts since August - as I've been focusing on school.  The one event that happened since then is my grandfather passed away.  There were a lot of great things about my grandfather - but maybe most notably for this blog, he was also my first running partner.  I remember when I was in early grade school stretching with him against the fender of his 1979 mustard colored Mercedes.  He had a mile long route around a man made lake in Ann Arbor.  Many people don't like running because the first time they do it is when they're being punished while practicing for some other sport.  I think one reason I like running so much is that my first experience with running was while getting to spend time with my grandpa.

I don't know what exactly 2015 will bring.  I did sign up for the Lincoln full marathon this morning.  Probably a foolish thing to do when most of my waking hours will be spent studying - but I figure I need something else to think about other than school.  The other new thing is that my wife is going to start writing a blog!  Which is called "The Multisport Hybrid Vigor". 

Will 2015 be a "good" year?  I might be a wimp - but let's just say that I hope it's "good" in a very different way than 2014.  Although it's going to include nine months of constant studying - so it's not exactly going to be a breeze.  Regardless - I'm sure it will be interesting.