Monday, September 25, 2006


Residency changes a person. Sitting here at my computer I just took note of my burgeoning potbelly and I thought of how I used to be an athlete. I used to run upwards of 90 miles per week in an effort to perfect my form, condition my heart, and strengthen my legs so as to race as fast as possible in cross country and track meets. Now I work upwards of 90 hours per week in an effort to perfect my efficiency, thicken my skin (because this residency is not easy), and develop technical ability so as to perform an adequate job as a brain surgeon. And in each case -- during my running days and now during my residency training days -- I have forsaken many (all?) of the simple pleasures in life, eschewing hedonistic activities entirely for the sake of pursuing a goal. I have lived by the motto one of my cross country coaches in college espoused: "Res severa verum gaudium" -- translated (loosely) as, "to be serious is the greatest joy."

Wait -- wasn't this post about change? Oh, yeah. So the difference between then and now is that when I was in college I would come home from a 20 mile run at 8000 feet altitude and I would read voraciously about running. I would immerse myself in imaginary scenarios, picture myself running faster, dream of running more. The more I ran the more I discovered a well of motivation to pursue running; and even when my racing seemed poor, the training itself became such a joyous rigor that I gladly undertook it. Then when injury cut short my running career I spent several years in a tailspin, trying to sublimate this almost irrepressible urge to run.

Contrast that with my situation now. Now I work seventeen hour days and come home wanting nothing more than to watch T.V., or turn on a movie, or write a short story, or jack around with the novel I tease myself into thinking someone might ultimately care to read. The last thing I want to do is read about surgery. That's not to say I don't do it, because my innate perfectionism compels me to maintain at least a modicum of competence. However, it seems that the love just isn't there. The will to persevere originates extrinsically now: the hope not to be humiliated in case conference, the desire not to sound like an idiot when talking to other physicians, the need to stay on par with your peers. Of course providing quality patient care is a motivating factor, but frankly the more I see and do the more I realize that quality in patient care is not something measured in skill, but in compassion. But that schmaltzy statement is a topic for another post. (In another three months, perhaps?)

In any event, I just felt like blathering on about nothing of any particular importance to anyone but me. Meanwhile I must note that I've worked out probably five times since this year of my training began. This from someone who used to consider himself an exercise addict.

It seems I've fallen off the wagon. Or is it back on the wagon? Whatever.


At 9:18 AM, Blogger shannon blog said...

I couldn't agree with you more. But with changes in life, comes a different (perfect) someone which you do become. Balance takes it toll, unfortunately residency (or health care) in that matter, never is balanced. It takes that compassion to drive you to make differences in those lives you are saving. I think it is great that you encorporate compassion in your care. I am a pediatric nurse and see surgeon's all the time who care about anything but compassion(no offense). Compassion is why I wanted to become a nurse..their's never enough you can give.
Anyways, just wanted to give you some encouragement! I hope your running days are not over. It is a great sport..and good way to work off that potbelly(jk). Bye

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Alois said...

Excellent post.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Shannon -- Thanks for the encouraging words. It's just a long road -- and longer still if you harbor interests outside of medicine, which ultimately must be sacrificed.

Alois -- Thanks! I saw the post related to running on your blog; it's amazing how that sport gets its hooks into you and won't let go.


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