At the time this article was written, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging on, bringing unprecedented changes for everyone, especially doctors. The good news is that we are reconnecting with our purpose and our patients. We are leaning in, and running in, to help in any way we can.
At the same time, many orthopaedic surgeons have discontinued elective surgery and shifted to virtual patient care. For many, the result of this unfamiliar shift is stress. As many of us are former (or even current) athletes, we are turning back to our roots of fitness to manage our stress and well-being. With social distancing, and even isolation, many of us are clinging to virtual ways to support one another.
Christine D’Ercole is one of the original spin instructors with Peloton—an indoor cycling experience that brings people together via a virtual community. Ms. D’Ercole is also a Masters World and national champion cyclist. She still races at the age of 48 years, and she continues to make it to the podium.
Karen M. Sutton, MD, FAAOS, and Jennifer M. Weiss, MD, FAAOS, spoke with Ms. D’Ercole on behalf of AAOS Now about the magic of group fitness and the “adult” athlete among the orthopaedic community.
AAOS Now: In the past weeks of social distancing and isolation, do you have any words to encourage our community of orthopaedic surgeons to take care of ourselves?
Ms. D’Ercole: I think it would be a powerful thing to remember that at all times, no matter what, we all have two tools in our pockets: our breath and our words. I suggest writing down a mantra every day. My go-to mantra is, “I can, I am, I will, I do.” But take it a step further—write down words to finish each of those sentences. Type it on your phone or write it on a little piece of paper that you put into your pocket, so you have a physical reminder every time you touch it, to breathe. Take a deep inhale. And on your exhale, drop your shoulders and drop your baggage.
This might sound silly, but if you can, take five minutes, even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom. Everything is unprecedented right now, so we have to be a little more rigorous and determined in the methods in which we care for ourselves.
You see so many tribes of like-minded people congregating on Peloton. Is there anything in particular that you notice about the doctor group?
It is difficult for doctors to put themselves first, especially in the time of COVID-19. There is tremendous pressure for professional perfection. You have to have all of the answers, and you have to have difficult conversations. You have to find a way to not carry the load. You are the last person to put on your own oxygen mask. That shared experience, in the midst of COVID-19, is a very daunting task to manage with any kind of grace. I want to encourage everyone who is taking care of us to really be vigilant in making time for self-care. The community you all have created in finding each other inspires so much accountability among each other. It is profound.
Many orthopaedists are former (or current) athletes. And we are not getting any younger! What are your words of wisdom for us?
I have seen a great deal of harsh self-criticism when we compare our achievements of the past to what may seem like lesser achievements as we get older. This is bull! I think we need to get out of our own way and not create psychological obstacles like that.
While it is true that our bodies change—recovery becomes more challenging, and our muscles, bones, and joints don’t work the same—we can feel like a superhero by engaging in these sports and activities that bring us so much joy by focusing on competing with the words that are in our head that lean toward giving up and changing that chatter to find words that make us stay in. That is the kind of competition we should be focusing on. The biggest competitor of all is the negative self-talk.
Orthopaedic surgeons have little to no time on our hands. How do you motivate us to “practice what we preach” to our patients and be accountable to ourselves?
There is a great misconception in our culture that self-care is selfish—that if you have the time for a workout or a fitness class that you are probably ignoring other responsibilities. I think that this ties into the myth that one is not worthy of self-care, as though it were an indulgence. This is a very dangerous and unhealthy line of thinking.
I would say that self-care is sanity, and for those who are not accustomed to taking time for themselves, it may feel like an uncomfortable act of rebellion at first. But the community is there to set an example and rally for acts of self-care and well-being. This behavior inspires others to grant themselves permission for self-care.
You often cue us as you start your classes to “take a deep breath, drop your shoulders, and drop your baggage.” Do you think that part of the secret sauce of Peloton has to do with peers who are accountable to give permission to each other to take care of ourselves?
Absolutely! The secret sauce of Peloton is in the communities it inspires. And I would like to add that “breath” is the key to that cue. There is so much power in collective breath. We breathe with each other, and we hold our breath with each other. Breath is incredibly contagious. We give ourselves permission to let go, supported by this whole community. It is almost like you can feel the weight of the baggage fall off your back, making room for you to feel the weight of a hand on your back instead.
What are your last thoughts for us as a group of doctors who have so much trouble “putting on our own oxygen masks” first?
Working out is not about a smaller pair of pants, thinner thighs, or getting a six-pack. There are so many uninvited and unasked challenges that land on us that we have to navigate. Exercise is about taking on a challenge that you choose.
When we choose to exercise, we are taking control of the challenge. Whether it is an intense workout, the challenge of holding back in a recovery workout, or practicing the art of restraint, these are opportunities to practice how we handle life.
When we look at it through this lens, I think it changes our entire perspective on the meaning of fitness. It is practicing self-care. It is putting on your own oxygen mask. Honor that you deserve to be able to do that.
Ms. D’Ercole reminds us, “Right now, more than ever, being in groups together” is a profound blessing. And heed Dr. Sutton’s personal mantra for the end of a workout: “Thank your body for what it has allowed you to do today.”
Karen M. Sutton, MD, FAAOS, is an associate professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, associate attending orthopaedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), and head team physician for U.S. Women’s Lacrosse. She is also chief medical officer for World Lacrosse and team physician for U.S. Ski and Snowboard. She is a member of the HSS Women’s Sports Medicine Center.
Jennifer M. Weiss, MD, FAAOS, chair of the AAOS Communications Committee, contributed to the article. Dr. Weiss practices in the Permanente Medical Group in Los Angeles. She specializes in pediatric sports. Learn more about Dr. Weiss at www.jenniferweissmd.com and follow her on Twitter at @mymomthesurgeon.