Monday, August 27, 2012

A Job to Be Done

Banana Slug by Moonlight. Van 2, PTC relay 8/2012

The kids are back in school. Ambivalence meets excitement meets mourning a summer gone meets the widening of the social circle, that last thing being highly beneficial for the teen of the species. And, of course, it is fall, thus cross country season.  Cross country season! CROSS COUNTRY SEASON!

I ran today, just easy for 45 minutes. I am calling it my official first day of training for the 50 mile ultra next year. Here's my plan: run far, and get faster. While running today I did not devise anything more definitive than that. But I did contemplate the thing I did/witnessed this weekend. This thing was on my top 10 list of the most memorable, inspiring things I have done in my life. And I didn't even run.

This is what I am talking about:

With 12 teenagers, 3 adults and me. Also 2 banana slugs (see above picture), named James and Marlene. Locals will know why.

There are no words, but of course I will need to try to word-paint a picture:
Life changing, exhausting, and hilarious. 2 days in a van with smelly, wonderful kids. Surreal visions, surreal conversations. Chaos. A primal scream at pre-dawn. A sky heavy with stars and the milky way. Fierce competition softened by teenage pop music. Singing children to wakefulness on a field in the cold, wee hours of the morning. Watching children who are really just about adults feel blissful and sure of themselves.
Two quotes:
First, when my iPod was turned on to entertain the van: "Elvis Costello? Did he play with Lawrence Welk?"
Second, and this one came more than once: "This is the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life!"

But my favorite quote is one that could be found in a Zen manual or it could be a quote from Atticus Finch. It moved me near to tears while also making me laugh. I think I will use it in my own life, for night shifts, for tough parenting days. And for 50 mile runs. This quote came after a predawn leg of the relay, from a very tired young woman who left a warm sleeping bag, strapped on a head lamp and ran, fast, into the dark.

"I just told myself: There is a job to be done."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eat, Pray, Run

Tomorrow I leave with 3 other brave adults and 12 near adults (teenagers, high schoolers, cross country runners) for Portland. For a 129 mile high school relay. More on this later.

Today I did medicine. With a break for lunch in the doctor's lounge. I literally could NOT eat the vegetarian burger puck, nor anything else, except a carton of chocolate milk. Chocolate milk can be the perfect food, but in this case it was like the only actual food in the room.  Meat and meat-substitute pucks play starring roles in doctor's lounges and public school cafeterias. They do not seem to ruffle inspectors and they don't take much preparation. Here's the weird thing: we have an overabundance of food in our society. So why do we eat non-food?

I am reading this book by Scott Jurek called Eat and Run. He is an ultramarathoner. Also a vegan. He runs fast, far. Really, really, really far. Scott Jurek might be over the top. I have not decided yet, though I do not suppose this is for me to decide. I understand his drive and passion.

It seems obvious, how we are what we consume. My patients who eat too much get sick. My patients who drink too much get sick. My patients who eat too little get sick. And it goes beyond food. Good literature and art feeds the heart and brain. Great music is like protein or manna from heaven or that canteen of water after a walk in the desert. Spiritual sustenance is more personal, but for some a turning away from spirit can manifest in scurvy of the soul and rickets of the religious center of balance. And physical motion? Physician is derived from words meaning nature, or the art of healing, or to bring forth or produce or to exist or grow. Fitness is derived from words meaning competence, being suitable, being qualified. Our physical nature and our fitness is essential. Until it isn't, and then thank goodness for good books and good music. And good food. And when we can no longer directly enjoy any of these things, we can feed upon our memories.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nothing a Music Festival and More Than 5 Seconds Off Can't Cure

"Running prepares you for the hard things in life"-my middle school cross country coach

Like Jack Nicholson, if I don't play run, things can get ugly. I have not, so far, noticed my kids writing messages on the mirror or talking with their index fingers, so I believe their is yet hope. Also, I am pretty sure I have found the cure:
A MUSIC FESTIVAL AND MORE THAN 5 SECOND OFF. warning: side effects include giddiness, sore dancing muscles, San Francisco fog fright, grass stains on your favorite jeans, and fainting when Jack White goes on stage.

The magnitude of suffering I've witnessed in the past 20 days of work is, well, big. Big enough for me to realize how stupid it is to feel sorry for myself that I am exhausted to the bone and that I have not had a chance to run more than once or twice in all of those days. Running is a good way to prepare for suffering but ironically, without it, my own suffering increases.

My fatigue is so deep in the bones that my youngest kid has reversed our roles: each night she has arrived at my bedside to give me a hug goodnight and tuck me in, as I am already half asleep under the covers well before her summer self would consider such a destination. I feel almost sick, and have started worrying maybe I am. This too is a danger in my profession. You can take a bruise and make it leukemia, or a tummy ache and make it carcinomatosis. But I think I have my diagnosis, and did I mention also a cure?

My Mom died 16 years ago this week. I have told several people they have a potentially terminal illness in the past 2 weeks. I touched someone's pulsating brain. I have taken the wrath of stressed out colleagues and the sadness of families bent over in grief. I miss a friend and mentor who recently died suddenly. I resigned one of my jobs, as 3 seemed too many, but I liked it and it was my only source of health insurance. I miss my children and husband. I have eaten way too much doctor's lounge "food".
I could use a run.

And this: