I often share stories of my personal journeys with my patients, the highs and lows. If having a 4-week old daughter when I started medical school wasn’t enough, my son was born during my third year of medical school, considered one of the hardest because of the exhausting clinical rotations.
In residency a few years later, I found myself struggling to meet the physical demands of my rotations once again. Rounds lasted 4 hours and we were on our feet the whole time. Night calls were 36 hours long. I remember walking in the hallway at 3 am to see a new admission and wondering how my legs were even carrying me. My breath was heavy when I would take the stairs.
I didn’t have one ounce of energy once I came home. I realized there was no way that I could sustain this pattern. So, I made a conscious decision to get stronger, from the inside out. I began a daily exercise routine. That’s right, I fought my exhaustion from exertion with more exertion. The only way this would work would be if I did it right after the residency training work day and BEFORE I sat down. It was all over if I sat down.
So I let my babysitter know that I would be sneaking into the basement from the garage door and going down to exercise. She had to keep the kids from hearing me or knowing I was home because again, it would all be over. They wouldn’t let go of me. I had her stay 1-hour extra every day to accomplish my goal.
That’s how it happened. Hiding and exercising for several days a week restored new life into my body. I felt strong, my stamina improved drastically, my mood improved, my sleep improved, and most importantly, I could get through the 4-hour physician rounds and the 36-hour calls with more mental clarity, something that is paramount as a physician in training.
There are no allowances for mistakes when you are writing orders and making critical decisions for your sick patients. When you are exhausted with brain fog, it is too easy to do just that.
I wholeheartedly attribute exercise as being a life and career saving measure for me. It gave me so much and continues to provide me with the most amazing sense of self, power, energy, joy and so much more. I want to help my patients have this same relationship with exercise. I want to change its role from something that is drudgery and tedious to something that is life changing.
Ayesha Aman MD, MPH