1. Ask for help

This ties closely into the last point, but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  The only reason we were successful on our trip was because we had an excellent guide.  Tiffany (from Wildland Trekking) was a rockstar guide – multiple other guides on the trail talked with us about how lucky we were to have her, and after working with her for four days, I wholeheartedly agree.  She was able to safely take us over some very difficult and dangerous terrain, all while teaching us about the canyon.  Her energy level was infectious, and she took great care of us.  I got so much more out of my trip because of her.  In addition, there were several other hikers in our group who had a wealth of experience in similar trips, and we were all able to learn from each other.

None of us are alone – in life or in medicine.  Our friends and colleagues are critical to our success and happiness.  Feel free to reach out when there’s something you don’t know, or there’s more on your plate than you can handle.  Not knowing something is an excellent opportunity to grow.  And by the way, make sure you return the favor to others who could benefit from your knowledge and experience.

  1. Take care of yourself

If you’re going to succeed under strenuous conditions, you have to take care of yourself.  On my hike, I used boots that were well worn in and fit me, and yet, I still had issues with my feet.  Thankfully I didn’t lose any toenails (which often happens when you’re walking downhill if your toes are hitting the front of your boot), but I still have the bruises under my toenails, and during the trip had significant blisters on my toes.  By asking for help (see above), I was able to get them taken care of, enabling me to continue on the hike without too much trouble.

By day three of the hike, I was starting to get a bit worn out.  That afternoon, some of the group were going to do a side/day hike down to the Colorado River to see a different rapid (we had already been down to the river the day before). 

We made camp and discussed the options for the afternoon.  The hike would be several hours, with no shade, and no ability to go into the river to cool off when we got there.  An alternative was staying in camp for the afternoon.  We were camping at Hermit Creek, and given the heat and lack of water in the canyon, this place was practically paradise.  There was an actual creek with water flowing, a small waterfall (with a pool below), and a beautiful overhanging rock to provide shade. 

I politely declined the hike to the river, and spent the afternoon sitting in the shade of the rock, dangling my feet in the creek, reading my book, and occasionally standing under the waterfall to cool off.  It might not look like much in the picture, but shade and water were in such short supply, it was idyllic.  It was a fantastic way to spend the day, enjoying the canyon, and recharging my batteries to prepare for the final push out of the canyon the next day.

Even when you’re busy (we were all there during peak COVID), you have to look after yourself.  Make sure you’re taking care of your physical needs (get regular sleep, meals, exercise) as well as your emotional needs.  Carve out some time to unplug and recharge your batteries (I think I just mixed my metaphors there – don’t see how you can recharge when you’re unplugged. . .).  It will be better for you and your patients.

  1. Persevere

To go slightly astray from talk of the Grand Canyon, my son just completed his black belt test in karate.  One of the signs in the dojo that I have always like says: “A black belt is a white who never quit”.  There’s a lot to that.  In the canyon, the last day was very difficult.  Despite my attempts to prepare, it was one of the harder physical challenges I’ve experienced.  I was by far the slowest member of the group, and psychologically this was tough (not used to being the weakest link). But as the sign said, going up is mandatory, and that’s what I did.  It’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice.  I put my head down, put one foot in front of the other, and just didn’t stop.  If you just refuse to stop, you’ll eventually get where you’re going, and that’s exactly what happened.  At times, with the sun beating down on me, and the temperature in the 90s, it felt like I was never going to make it.  But I just kept going.  And I made it to the top.

Not looking my best (too tired to even really smile), but at least I was at the top.  The same lessons apply to work and life.  When there’s no choice, you can just put your head down, put one foot in front of the other, and get it done.  Eventually the work will be done, the shift will be over, and you can relax.  You don’t want to live like that every day, but when the occasional day is grim, just know that you can get it done. 

Looking back, at my son’s black belt test, the sensei asked the kids how many of them thought, during the test, that they weren’t going to be able to finish.  They all raised their hands.  This is such a great lesson for them – even when you think you’re beaten and can’t go on, you have hidden reserves of strength to allow you to overcome.  Maybe this is a good lesson for all of us, not just kids.

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