It was when my lung fell out that it hit me. No, come to think of it, it was before that, when a scorpion struck my left calf. Or it might have been when my heart exploded. No, it was earlier than that—probably around the time my right lower abdominal quadrant was gutted by that wild boar. No, actually, it was even earlier than that. Somewhere around the time I pulled my 204th muscle. Yeah, that was it. That’s when I first wondered why there is no “fun run” for safety.
Truth be told, there was no de-lunging, scorpions, cardiac explosion, or wild-boar-goring. It just felt like that. The reason: I was running. The occasion: an annual fun (?) run to support Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Why I, an out-of-shape specimen blessed with a superhero-like affinity for both chips and the couch, should be pounding the pavement early on a Saturday morning is a case study in wifely nagging.
And misplaced healthcare priorities.
You see, I have neither Crohn’s nor ulcerative colitis, have no friends or family members with them, and, frankly, rarely even provide care for patients with these diseases. What I do have is a gastroenterologist for a wife. A gastroenterologist who passionately supports gastroenterological problems; a gastroenterologist who doesn’t herself like to participate in fun runs; a gastroenterologist who relishes, apparently, seeing her husband sweat lactate while testing the anaerobic limits of the human organism. This was the nagging part.
As the gun reported at 7:30 a.m., there I was, fidgeting nervously at the starting line in a moth-eaten cotton tee from the last road race I had run—in 1989—while those around me gave my too-short, reversible, blue-and-white gym shorts the up-and-down. Cotton socks crotched, feet pre-blistered, I departed, feeling good—for the first four meters.
The next 4.99 kilometers proved slightly more daunting—providing an abundance of K’s to ponder the misplaced healthcare priorities part.
Running in The Trees
After I expertly buried the first 100-meter downhill, the race entered a well-worn, tree-lined footpath. I was shocked by both the splendor of the environs as well as the hordes of people passing me. I was comfortable with the concept of the taut young adults leaving me in their dust and, even, sort of, the superiorly fit elders. The pre-teens were more unsettling. As were the walkers—especially the walker using a walker.
It’s interesting, the relationship between road races and medical diseases. It’s not surprising, really, that generally healthy specimens would band together and use exercise as a weapon against disease—it’s actually quite noble. And common. My guess is your hometown counts numerous foot, bike, and foot-and-bike races supporting the eradication of myriad medical maladies.
In the span of just a few months, I’ve noted local races raising awareness of neurologic disorders (multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, stroke, spinal muscular atrophy), cancer (breast, prostate, lung, leukemia, lymphoma, colon, skin, sarcoma, carcinoid), infectious disease (HIV/AIDS), and other medical conditions or causes (cystic fibrosis, cleft palate, pre-eclampsia, transplant, veterans).
Now, don’t get me wrong: I fully support any fund- or awareness-raising events targeting specific diseases or causes. In fact, if I were only slightly less slothlike, I’d participate in more of them. It’s just that in the grand scheme of things, it seems we are missing the forest through the trees. Finding a cure for cancer will matter little if we can’t deliver that cure in a safe, efficient, high-quality manner. Put another way, we can’t cure cancer patients if our health delivery system kills them first.