Lessons from the bike: We must not give up on each other

My bike friends are pretty much the most amazing people you’d ever want to ride with or know. And they never gave up on me, even when I had given up on myself. Here is the story.

After getting back from New York City, I spent May recovering, getting back to health, and working on the answer to the question, “What next?” — both in my career and in the war against COVID. My COVID journey started with our cloth mask campaign and a lot of reading, and then stints in our ICU here in Denver, followed by the privilege of traveling to New York City at the end of April. My chief gave us a week of quarantine after getting back, to make sure we were negative for COVID, and I think to make sure we had a chance to process our experience and have time to sleep and take care of ourselves, and perhaps start to answer the “What next” question. I hit my Peloton hard, remotely with friends, working in workouts every single day. I ate right and got metabolically healthy. I tried to sleep. This was a challenge for me for a good 8 weeks after NYC — not necessarily COVID dreams, but anxious dreams in general about complicated patients, mostly non-COVID, that would wake me up at 3 AM to gnaw on issues back at our center. Even if the dreams were non-COVID dreams, this was a new thing for me since coming back from NYC for reasons I don’t quite understand.

In June I fell completely into a routine of taking care of really sick non-COVID patients in the hospital, with some of the most challenging issues I had yet to face, and at the same time our clinics opened back up and I was working hard to stay on top of clinic, while trying to whittle down my writing list, from submitting papers long overdue to fighting for funding to help support this war against COVID. In the midst of this I gave up on my own health (again), sacrificing a healthy diet for a carb-laden dopamine hit, and I gave up on working out for much of the month. Little Peloton. Just work, sleep, repeat. But this story is not about my June. And I seek no sympathy about that month. The ebbs and flows of work and stress are present in all our lives. I state it here just to set the context for the amazing gift from my friends of not giving up.

While this was happening, for the entire month my bike friends would text me every week about riding, sometimes twice per week (they ride 3–4 days per week). They had been riding outside now for awhile, and I had yet to ride with them in 2020. Would I want to join them? And each time I said no, and said I had too much on my plate. Maybe next time. Sometimes I came close, and then totally flaked at the end: Just one more paragraph, just one more stab at specific aims. I was overwhelmed. All the while I thought to myself that eventually they’d stop asking. And at one point I believed that that would eventually happen. Because I had given up on myself, I was ready for the inevitability that they would eventually give up too.

But they never did. They kept asking with polite inclusive texts, until I finally said “yes.” The first ride out with them up Squaw Pass from Bergen Park was challenging, but okay, although I felt like I was hauling a grand piano on the back of my bike. I felt so slow. Heavy. It was the next ride up Squaw Pass from Idaho Springs that really hit me. I truly crawled up that mountain at a snail’s pace, but it was all I had. And when I saw them take off so easily like pros and drop me like a lead balloon, I just sucked it up and kept pedaling. I had to at least make it to the summit. You must know that while my friends are generous, our rides are intentionally no-holds-barred, and I love that part. We are in it to push each other, and although we wait, we wait at the top of the climbs after the major efforts is complete. When I got to Echo Lake and found them there, and I had a moment of vulnerability our of frustration with my poor fitness. I was just going to go back down the mountain and let them go on and ride the bigger loop. But they were the most understanding and encouraging people. Again, they believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. They never gave up on me. And I went on and finished the ride with them that day. Had I been alone I don’t think I would have. Again I would have given up on myself. Finishing that ride that day was a big step forward as well as back to getting back to my old self, the woman who loves to ride her bike.

Since then I’ve been working out more regularly, working to keep up. I’m still dragging behind my friends up the mountain, but man I’m working hard, a new sense of purpose, hitting the gym, eating better and trying to get better sleep. And each week I get just a little faster, feel a little stronger, and each time we finish a ride it truly feels like a victory.

The moral of this story is that it is our job as physicians, as colleagues and as friends, especially in this time of the pandemic, to not give up on each other. Often we have to believe in our patients or in our friends or colleagues when they may hardly believe in themselves. And when we do, the impact we can bring is powerful. In fact what I learned was that it makes all the difference in the world.

Thank you to my riding buddies for your compassion and faith. May I pay it forward.

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Patricia George

Patricia George

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Physician, athlete, and lover of the outdoors. Seeking to understand how we manifest our best selves. Inspired by hope. Opinions are my own.