When I was an EMT in college, I responded to a 911 call to find a man in his fifties, white as a sheet, panting in a stairwell of a parking garage. The paramedics’ ECG quickly and unambiguously confirmed that he was having a heart attack. Despite this, he refused to accept that he was having a heart attack and spent twenty minutes insisting that he was just dehydrated. We couldn’t even get him to look at his ECG. When his wife finally convinced him to go, he still continued to say that nothing was wrong. His wife told us that he was a cardiologist who had been practicing for over thirty years, which shocked me at the time. I didn’t understand how a cardiologist with thirty years of experience could fail to recognize a textbook case of myocardial infarction.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. In the midst of medical school application fever, I decided to set myself a personal goal of running a half-marathon. After four months of training and preparation, I arrived in Limerick ready to run a good time. I’d run the half-marathon distance twice already in my training (once two weeks before the race and another time two weeks before that) and I was excited to see if I could break my time of 1hr 38min. I’d written May and Tyler’s numbers as emergency contacts on the back of my race number as an afterthought, convinced that my training and preparation had been more than enough for this race.
At mile three, I knew something was wrong. In the midst of the excitement I ignored what my body was telling me and pushed onwards, convincing myself that I was just dehydrated. Less than a quarter mile from the finish line, I lost consciousness and was caught by a bystander. I remember waking up with a good third of my Mitchell cohort as well as 3 Irish EMTs huddled around me. A few days of rest and recuperation was more than enough to get me back on my feet because I had no further symptoms of stomach ulcers after that day; however, my stubbornness in refusing to recognize that something was wrong not only cost me the race but could have resulted in more serious consequences if a bystander hadn’t caught me when I fell.
In medicine, we are so used to objectively observing illness and disease that we forget that we are never objective about ourselves. Collapsing at the race gave me an important wake-up call. During my time in Ireland, I am most thankful for the chance to take a break from science to study literature and gender studies. Taking time for myself, to pursue personal interests and passions, will be crucial to my self-care in medical school. There is a culture in medicine of working astoundingly grueling hours and bearing extreme emotional burdens in the name of helping people. While I do want to give as much as I can as a medical student and as a physician, I need to recognize my own limits and not be too proud to remember that doctors need to stop, listen and sometimes ask for help, too. It isn’t weak to recognize the limits of your own body. It’s human.