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Running the Marathon as a Medical Student

The blisteringly cold and windy November Sunday of the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon felt like any other day in my life as a third-year medical student. I arose before sunlight and journeyed to a new, unfamiliar place to await its start. Staten Island—the hub of enlivened, eager participants at the beginning of the marathon—was this day’s “unfamiliar place.” I awaited the event with a happy, excited, nervous feeling that I keep in the middle of my esophagus. It was the same feeling that bubbles regularly within me as a medical student traveling to each day’s new location: the hospital wards, the ER, the clinic, the radiology reading room. At the starting line of the marathon, I was encouraged by fellow participants even as I encouraged others. The unpredictability of the day tickled my nerves, filling me with a now familiar mix of anxiety and excitement. My team that day—usually classmates, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other hospital staffers—was my fellow runners.

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Yair Saperstein

I heard the cannon, and I ran. I ran with drive, with energy, with enthusiasm. I ran with the crowd, nearly flung backward by the wind crossing the Verrazano Bridge. I ran for a purpose, for the Blue Card Fund charity, a Holocaust-survivor support organization. I ran fast with the roar of the crowd, and then more slowly, encouragingly and supportively alongside a woman struggling to complete the race. And 26.2 miles later, I ran across the finish line. On medical rotations, it’s the drive to find the best way to treat my patients that fuels me. I have stayed awake for nights trying to figure out what disease one of my patients has. I have spent hours reading voraciously about my patients, asking: Are we treating his disease properly? Reflecting: Did we properly explain everything to her? In the hospital too, I am a staunch believer in listening closely to my patients, in discussing extensively with them the motivations behind their life choices. In the clinic, I am charged with a similar vitality, zest, exuberance and buoyancy to counsel my patients on proper, healthy choices. Adrenaline works for the medical marathon too.

Delirium set in the night after the race. I was in and out of focus, thinking I still heard the roar of the crowds. Much like in my week in the ICU, when I still heard the beeping of the machines after I went home for my few hours of precious sleep, my senses remained fictitiously alive as I hobbled down the stairs to the subway. The ding of the respirators, the beeps of the cardiac monitors, the ring of the pagers that had played incessantly in my head were now the cheer of the crowds, the howl of the wind and the sound of my shoes pounding on the pavement.  The ICU used to come home with me, continuing to live in the auditory and visual arenas of my brain. As I sat on the train ride home, the marathon stayed with me that night.

People had told me the marathon is like giving birth—that once I ran it, I wouldn’t be able to think of repeating it for some time. Yet for me, participating in and completing the marathon gave me new life, even if it was draining. Indeed, it encouraged me to keep active (I still choose the stairs over the elevator, and my bike rather than the shuttle), and gave me the power to offer encouragement to classmates, physicians and patients alike. People had also warned me that the third year of medical school would be exhausting. Yet while medical school is truly a marathon of studying, working, learning and teaching, it is at the same time revitalizing and revivifying.

I spent countless hours training for, living with and enduring the run. The marathon is physiology. It is the human body working at its maximum level. But it is psychology as well. The day of the marathon, I ran with more than 50,000 people. To me, a marathoner is the flying spirit encouraging other runners, the kind soul raising money for charity, the bold survivor, the diligent trainer, the empowered fighter, the powerful individual, the one among many. This is the medical student as well: the fighter with a cause, the lifelong learner, the dutiful teacher. I am a medical student and a runner. I strive to learn and to work, to care and to treat, to teach and to serve with diligence, compassion, endurance, kindness and the knowledge that my work helps others.

 

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Yair Saperstein

Yair Saperstein

Mr. Saperstein is a fourth year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is studying for his cantorial degree at the Belz School of Jewish Music and is founder of the international organization START Science, Inc. and a cofounder of TEACH.

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  • Lil February 4, 2015, 7:57 AM

    Wow! I could feel your exuberant spirit throughout this piece! Good luck to you as you continue in your future races, as a runner and a doctor.