Email From An Intensive Care Doctor, Runner

Here’s a moving email we received from an intensive care doctor who ran a half marathon for the “Social Distancing” Run. We read this email on our last podcast episode.

I wanted to reach out to thank you guys for the podcast.. and for the virtual race! I’m an intensive care doctor, and currently working in a hospital that is a COVID-19 hub for our healthcare system.

Almost all of our patients at the moment (and for the foreseeable future) are either confirmed cases and being treated for it, or are under investigation for it. We’ve had so many ups and downs at work; patients we saved when the odds were against them, and others we lost.

A woman I put on speaker to talk to her husband when he came off life support, and a son who had to let go of his mother without being able to see her because he was sick himself. This virus has also disrupted our home life.

My children (8 and 3 years old) are stuck at home, and they can’t even go to a park, gym, playground, nature center, museum or sporting event. My son has a birthday coming up, and his birthday request was to go to a hockey game. He can’t understand why we won’t take him.

My oldest is autistic and really can’t deal with changes in her routine. They’re struggling with it and are too young to understand why this is happening. So naturally, the stress of it doesn’t end when I come home after 13 hours at a COVID-19 ICU.

You know what does get my mind off of it, though? Even just for a brief moment, or an hour or two, or for whatever time my mind decides not to focus? A run. A long run. A short run.  A few strides, a few intervals, a long slow 15 miler, an hour long tempo… whatever my legs can put up with.

There’s a theory neuroscientists debate about pain perception called the “gate theory”. They postulate that your brain can only allow one pain signal in at a time, and “shuts the gate behind it”, so others don’t get through. (That’s why when you break your arm and skin your knee at the same time, you won’t really notice the knee hurting).

Well.. that’s what the pain of a long run or a race does for me. Closes the gate on the others. I’ve been asked “why” a lot (since I’m not an athlete, and not fast enough to win an age group award or even to BQ). I have to explain to people that pain is a just another sensation, and does not have to be accompanied by a negative emotional response. Just like eating spicy food… that hurts, but is enjoyable to a lot of people.

So I run to replace a negative emotional pain with an exhilarating enjoyable pain and close the gate for a few hours. I did my 13.1! Finished in 1:58 Flat. Keep up the good work!

Stay safe everyone!

Jafar Abunasser, MD

One Response to Email From An Intensive Care Doctor, Runner

  1. Diane April 28, 2020 at 6:51 pm #

    Love this! Thank you for sharing. I’m a pulmonary/critical care physician in IL and have literally had the same sentiment about running during this time. I cry, I smile. I get it all out on the run and get to start over with a clean slate.

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