‘Doc, was that you we saw running the other day?’ queried my patient. It’s been a question I get a lot since doing my training runs on weekdays. Whence before I dreaded being sighted on the road dripping in sweat in very skimpy outfits by patients and friends, today I wear my running badge with pride and some confidence. If before I led a double life of runner and dentist, today, I eagerly share my ultra trail and road adventures with gusto and gratification.
The last 23 years I’ve been in the practice of dentistry, friends and patients have always pictured me as the mild mannered guy whose idea of fun involved prying out tooth fragments and draining pus on swollen faces in the comforts of my sterile clinical existence. It was a cocooned existence where the action was confined inside the hallowed caverns of the oral cavity, the valleys of the periodontal pockets, the uphill cusps of molars and darkened tunnels of root canals. It was a safe, predictable, staid and boring lifestyle which little by little took a toll on the shoulders and back.
While I never looked better then, replete with well formed arms and chest (I was a gym buff), I had zero cardio-vascular workout and was easily fatigued and burnt out. Plus the blood pressure went out of control. Time for a game change…
4 years ago when I stumbled into the world of running, I started donning the skimpiest of apparels and exposing myself into the ever-changing elements of extreme heat, rain and all sort of flotsam in the choking world of Metro Manila roads. So imagine one moment I’m pounding the pavement under the sweltering heat, dripping in sweat and all sort of bountiful slime and dirt. And an hour later, I’m in the safety of my operatory attending to patients’ needs as peppermint oil wafts across Sitti’s cooing voice.
The great disparity was simply jarring that the first impulse was to conceal it from my patients. The thought of them seeing me oozing with sweat and grime was just too much to take. So this is my double life – one is controlled, organized and serene while the other is unpredictable, chaotic and full of surprises. While I hardly break a sweat inside the clinic, the other is about dirt, sweat and I just love it.
We want our dentists well groomed, smelling sweet and uttering the wittiest statements & dishing out the most helpful of tips, don’t we? And not cursing the wind and the race director (where the hell is the finish of this %$@* race?). Now who would want to see his dentist slugging it out in muddy trails and treacherous mountain tracks? I can just read their thought bubbles: “Now isn’t that going to weaken his dexterity and clinical skill in handling my dental cases?” or “So how can he still take care of me when he’s always up there in the mountains, caked in mud and being feasted upon by jiggling leeches (eeew…)?
Now, let me run through all these misimpressions. Oh yes, I am exposed to all sort of inconveniences (torture, if you may) in an environment teeming with dirt and grime an ordinary sheltered individual won’t be able to stomach. But after each adventure, I’d bathe and scrub myself clean to the bone and I’d like to believe we observe aseptic techniques in our practice once ensconced in our four-walled, environmentally controlled clinic. And yes, after years of hitting the road and trail, I can still take out an impacted molar or negotiate some shrunken root canals.
And I still haven’t thrown my clinic sked into chaos in favor of the outdoors. I can’t keep hiking if I don’t have the funds to sustain it so the most I’d take out in my work week is 1-2 days. Basically, I still have 5 full days to see patients – yes, even if I’m a bit burned and limping. Fact is, I look forward to be back to my air-conditioned environment after days to being exposed to inclement weather. It balances things out without feeling burned out on either side of my polarized universe.
Without a doubt, running, besides stabilizing my fluctuating blood pressure and lulling me to long peaceful slumbers (didn’t know that Sleepasil has been routine to some colleagues), had strengthened me, physically and skillfully. I can take hours of continuous dental procedures without complaining and feeling wasted – always keeping in mind that the finish line is coming round the bend. Or during those toxic stressful clinic moments where I’ve learned to handle the situation the way I’ve battled injuries and submission during a race.
But eventually, like some illicit love affair, one tries to inevitably merge both lives. I soon realized that running would play a greater part for the rest of my earthly life so I might as well wear it like a proud badge. Soon enough, I was opening up to my patients on my exploits on the road and trail. And what do you know, they were piqued curious (perhaps, by that BDM trophy resting at the reception area) and fascinated by my ‘secret life’. I was no longer the guy who was buffed, clean and whole some, I had become the gaunt dark warrior – looking burnt and hardened but brimming with eagerness and perseverance and ready to take on any challenge, whether at the dental operatory or the road…