Day 197: Control

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“It’s hard to keep things fresh and not become a parody of yourself. And if you’ve ever seen that movie Spinal Tap, you’ll know how easy it is. It’s a parody of what we all do. The first time I ever saw it, I didn’t laugh. I wept. I wept because I recognized so much in so many of those scenes. I don’t think I’m alone amongst all of us here in that.”

– The Edge, U2’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, 2005


To be fair, Grey’s Anatomy is probably not the worst show on television, but the overly-dramatized plots and scenes that are supposed to make me laugh but do nothing of the sort leave me wondering what so many other people see in the show. Its long run of prime-time success seems to indicate that my opinion is that of the minority.

Above my other criticisms, the aspect of the show that rubs me the wrong way is how themes in patient care just so happen to mimic whatever events are going on in the doctors’ personal lives. Every episode this occurs. My eyes roll. As if someone is telling me the same joke over and over again, I want to interrupt and plead: Stop, please, I get it already.

Then to my horror, I realize the joke is on me: They’re right. The themes running through patient care and my own life really do seem to happen with such regularity.

In the midst of a late-summer walk, the inspiration hit me to try jogging for the first time since my surgery. I broke out into a jog and slowly shuffled along before the pain in my back was so intense that I had to slow down and resume my walking. Maybe I had jogged 20 yards, roughly the equivalent of crossing a wide street. This occurred in early August. According to surgeons’ predictions, I should have been able to start running in June.

In both life and healthcare, only some factors are in our control. The rest of them? Who knows. That is why I am so careful about tying goals to specific outcomes that are only somewhat under our influence. Furthermore, it is why I am wary of predicting how my patients will fare in terms of weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, or whatever other outcomes they are attempting to influence.

One of the most influential lessons in my life happened in the span of a few seconds in the south Pacific. As I sat on the boat’s edge preparing to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, a wave came up and dragged me into the water. There is power, and then there is power. Mine was dwarfed by that of the ocean, which had its way with me. While I struggled to get back to the boat as the water pushed and pulled me with much greater force than I anticipated, I had an epiphany of humility: We do not have as much control over our lives as we would like to think.

Having only limited control does not mean we should throw up our hands and give up. It just means we need to keep perspective, accept our limited power as we continue our work, temper expectations, and adjust to whatever comes.

After five months of waiting, I was finally cleared to begin physical therapy in late August. With the help of my therapist, I am working hard to reclaim my conditioning and put myself in the best possible position for my desired outcome: a return to competitive running and tennis. Neither sport is a possibility right now, even though I had expected to be able to resume both activities months ago. Given that, I have refocused my efforts on outdoor cycling.

Getting on my bike again was fantastic. Riding produces no pain whatsoever. Although my cardiovascular fitness has plummeted due inactivity and I am not able to ride as far now as I used to, just going through the routine of prepping my bike, putting on my helmet, starting my bike computer, and setting off down the road is the closest to the old me I have felt in just about a year. It makes me feel, well, normal.

We only have so much control over what happens and when, but if we keep our expectations in check and adapt accordingly, we can still find ways to thrive. I’m sure there must be a Grey’s Anatomy episode about that.


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