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Doctors Trying to Do It All: It's Possible to Keep Your Sanity!

As a full-time infectious diseases attending at a busy urban community hospital and a mom of three very active children, I am always trying to catch up with chores. Therefore, I am always running behind. Life feels like a hamster wheel most days. I enjoy being an infectious diseases doctor, it is very intellectually stimulating and, of course, I love my children. However, in order to maintain my sanity and health, I have to find ways to decompress and recharge.

A year ago, I signed up my children for ice skating classes — another chore added to my already full plate. I was dragging my feet at the beginning. Taking them to the skating rink after work every Wednesday evening was a daunting task. “They wouldn’t last long anyway,” I would think in order to reassure myself. My kids had signed up for all kinds of sports before, including basketball, dodge ball, Lacrosse and swimming. None stuck for long and after a few classes, they would not want to continue and move on to the next sport.

When I found out that adults could attend classes on the same rink as the children, I decided to give it a shot, figuring it was better than sitting at the bleachers and counting the minutes till the end of the kids’ lessons. It would definitely be better than thinking about all the chores I could have been doing instead of idly sitting.

I knew I was completely out of shape by then. I had decided to start exercising so many times only to give up before starting. The thought of exercise was exhausting in itself. After a full day at work, coming home and taking care of my family’s needs left no energy to spare. I was an avid skier in my youth but those days were long gone.

I signed up along with my children. Before I began the classes, I could stand on the rink without falling but that was about the sum of my entire skating experience. “What do I have to lose?” I thought, “So long as I don’t take a bad fall and break anything, this is a good thing for me.”

Most adults don’t think about learning to figure skate. They think that it can only be done when you start at a very young age. The only other ‘adult’ in my class was an eighteen-year-old girl. My coach was about half my age, too. 

Ice skating turned out to be different than my children’s prior experiences with sports. They were happy that mom was learning to skate with them. They could see me trudging along on the other side of the rink as they were in their own groups of children learning to skate. After class, we would go for a quick bite and make it a family night.

I started to look forward to Wednesday nights the most. These lessons became the highlight of my week. I finished my patients and all the administrative work on time so we could get there 15 minutes before the start of the class, just enough time to tie everyone’s skates and hop on the ice.

I was truly enjoying being completely out of my element. I loved having to forget about all the stress that I may have had that day at work. I had to fully focus and learn a new skill and be a student again. I loved the challenge. When my coach asked me to try to skate in reverse, I thought she was kidding. Well, she was not and it took me a while, but eventually, I learned how to skate backward. To my surprise, I picked up a few other tricks. We initially signed up for the six-week class, but when that ended, we decided to sign up for another six…then another…

I thought I would continue the classes until I reached my limit and could not progress to the next level of skating. I am still progressing. The competitiveness in me took on the challenge head-on and I have no intention to quit.

Early on, I took a bad fall. Somehow, I completely lost my balance and fell forward hitting the ice with my chest — unable to use my arms to protect myself from the impact. It almost took my breath away, but I got up and kept skating. Thankfully, I did not have any broken bones. I had back pain for a month after that fall. Now, I am a lot more careful. As one coach taught me, it is not the speed that counts.

In order to keep up with the stamina required to advance in the classes, I had to clean the thick dust on the treadmill in the basement and actually start using it. The skating classes gave me the enthusiasm to finally bite the bullet. I was enjoying my lessons so much that I was willing to do anything to be able to continue my progress on the ice. Ice skating classes became a lifeboat for me to keep my sanity.

I continue to advance in figure skating. My progress is slow. I am not a natural by any means. I have to work hard to learn every little move. The coaches have been very impressed with my enthusiasm and willingness to learn. I have a big, bright smile on my face from the beginning to the end of each class even if I may be stuck with a difficult move for weeks. Happily, I go for additional practice sessions with the kids at least once a week and enjoy every minute on the ice.

I am a lot happier and content now than I was before ice skating. I am certainly in the best shape of my life. (Although, I’m still a lot heavier than I should be!). Kids are sticking with it too. They are still going strong and going up the levels a lot faster than I do. We have become closer as a family.

I randomly practice my moves off the ice — standing on one foot trying to improve my balance or a full body turn on one foot. This may look odd to a stranger at first, but it is how this doctor keeps her sanity.

Gul Madison, MD, is an infectious diseases specialist in Philadelphia.

Dr. Madison is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

Image by Syuzanna Guseynova/ gettyimages

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