Being Comfortable with Uncertainty
Every injury is unique and sucky, but being injured as a medical student is especially awful. I spend most of my time thinking of answers, whether it’s a multiple choice test, list of differential diagnoses, time for a meeting, word for a policy, etc. But what I haven’t yet learned in medical education is how to NOT have an answer...which makes no sense because in medicine there aren’t many slam-dunk answers. We try to explain away the uncertainty, doubt, and negativity by finding something to blame and by creating a solution for how to move forward. You have diabetes? Stop drinking sweet tea. You got the flu? Get your flu shot next year. These are all valid (and important) responses, but if my patient drinking sweet tea also owns a bakery or my patient with the flu works at an elementary school, then I’m missing an important part of the equation.
Sometimes (aka most times) what we end up blaming isn’t the sole culprit, and there isn’t one clear way to move forward. Our brains are wired to say things like, “this started hurting right after I ran in the snow, so I’ll be smarter about that next time.” This creates a neat and tidy package, letting us narrate our injury story to people who mean well but don’t have time to listen to an entire saga full of ups and downs. But brushing it off this way ignores the reality of 6 months of 70+ mile weeks, traveling, poor sleep, running too fast on easy days, 400+ miles on all my pairs of shoes... and the list goes on. So I don’t have one answer to explain why I’m injured, and creating one would encourage me to blame one thing without seeing the whole picture. And I don’t have an answer for what my injury is, how long I’ll be out, when I’ll get to run or race again, or even if this is all worth it.
But not having answers has helped me start asking the right questions. What do I care about? How should I spend my time? Why do I run? I love the freedom and power I feel when I run, and the sense of community and purpose that I get from training and racing with my teammates. So until I get healthy again, I’ll be learning how to ask the right questions and be more comfortable with uncertainty.