The Hippocratic Sloth

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

— Joseph Heller

I’m a bit of a mess, physically speaking. I’ve never had the body of an Olympian, but there were times, years even, when I made it to the gym four or five days a week. Now, I belong to a fabulous gym on the second floor of OHSU’s snazzy building at the South Waterfront. Membership is free (or $56,000 a year, depending on how you count it). A workout is just a tram ride away. I’m lucky if I make it once a week. The spirit is willing but the flesh grows steadily weaker.

Our teachers tell us how important it is to get to the gym and exercise. It’s important because exercise is, truly, one of the best things you can do to maintain your health, and we’re supposed to promote good health. Exercise is especially important during periods of your life when you’re enduring lots of stress. Medical school, for instance. Our teachers remind us of this either because they care about us and have forgotten how much work they’ve assigned or because they’re perverse. I think it’s the former, but it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is med schol is stressful and demanding, which means we need to take extra good care of ourselves and have neither the time nor the resources to do so.

Some of my classmates do exercise — a few rather assiduously, from the looks of them. But there are other pitfalls. I quit counting the number of med students I know who smoke when I hit double digits. Of course, we know tobacco is unhealthy. Early in med school we dissect out lungs, several pairs of which are inevitably black with tar and spongy with emphysema. Med students are painfully aware how bad smoking is, even the ones lighting up cigarettes to cope with the stress. One of our teachers recently confided that, when he was in med school, all the smokers became pulmonologists. Put that in your pipe and puff on it a while.

Personal relationships help us cope with stress, especially our connections with people outside of medicine. I hope all my old friends appreciate that I appreciate this, when weeks pass without my having found time to call them.

A good night’s sleep is vital for maintaining health and happiness. And most of us do get the necessary eight hours, though it may take a couple of nights to squeeze it in.

I don’t mean to make us all sound like basket cases. I’m sure there are plenty of well-adjusted medical students who take great care of themselves and successfully process their stress in healthful ways. I’m also sure there are plenty of people who love the bagpipes, though I’ve never met one.

At least I will leave school well prepared to empathize with patients who are overweight, underactive, stressed-out, solitary smokers.

“Oh,” I’ll say, “I didn’t realize you were in medical school, too.”

6 responses to “The Hippocratic Sloth

  1. Great post, and sadly so true…I get really excited when I have a week in which I get two workouts in. Like really, really excited. Maybe we could convince our small group leaders to start leading hike/tutorial sessions now that the weather is getting nice? I mean there are all those great trails around campus…

  2. I exercise 5 or 6 days per week, eat loads of veggies, and balance studying and sleeping. I feel pretty good. (I’m still stressed at times, though, and I rarely see my old friends.)

    But you can do it! Bike to school. Take the hour between lectures and PCM to hit the Connor Trail for a 30-minute hike. Try some hoops or swim laps in the gym on the hill, if you can’t fit in a tram ride. Jog 30 minutes when you get home, before you study, to wake yourself up and hit the books fresh. Bring a lunch every day full of vegetables and whole foods. And for goodness sake, QUIT smoking. It’ll only create more stress when you’re jonesing for a puff.

    I know it’s trite, but the best thing you have is your health. And as you point out, we’re role models regardless of our actions.

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