I remember the accident vividly—up until I fell unconscious. I can still feel the wind whirling past my ears, roaring at me, smacking my face, forcing tears from my bulging, dilated eyes. I remember traveling at what seemed like the speed of light, my heart pounding wildly in my chest. I weighed my options in a split second: dismount and lose a leg or remain aboard and lose my life. The pulsating hoof beats hammered against the ground, their deafening sound only interrupted by a lone, terrifying whinny. My reinless fingers clutched his neck, extruding clumps of mane follicles. And then, it all happened so fast. He ran towards the tree. The branch struck my face. My neck whipped back. I floated weightless in the air, no horse beneath me, until I finally slammed onto concrete.
As I opened my heavy eyelids laying on the cold and now bloodstained ground, my thoughts raced to my horse and his well-being. I immediately forgave the incident—the breaking of the reins, the uncontrollable galloping, the fall. Despite the concussion and mild amnesia, I was back in the saddle the following day. My bond with my horse was strong enough to overcome that challenge. Now, as I tackle the role of medical student, I know our bond is strong enough to overcome this hurdle as well.
The medical school experience often reminds me of my horseback riding accident. I awake to my 5 a.m. alarm with a throbbing headache as if I had fallen on concrete. Hours of painful, hunch-backed studying feels like the extreme soreness I endured for a week after my intense trauma. Despite these negative associations, the most significant similarity between my near-death experience and medical school is the extreme passion I feel for both vocations. The same persistence that helped me remount my horse allows me to embrace the lifestyle of a committed student physician. In fact, my love for these completely different facets of my life has allowed me to continue both simultaneously.
Since matriculation, there was absolutely no question in my mind regarding my horse: he would remain a part of my life despite the demanding challenge of taking on two separate, yet difficult, entities. I exercised my beloved teammate every morning before classes, and visited him for grooming and maintenance every evening. Caffeine and my watch were loyal friends during this adjustment period to medical school, which was like no other I have ever experienced. I admit that often I forgot a change of sneakers and was forced to wear my paddock boots to school. Even if I remembered my jeans, I was sometimes too tired to change out of my breeches. Occasionally, I neglected to spray the horse odor out of my hair and relied on the aromas of formaldehyde and poorly embalmed cadaver to conceal it. However, these mistakes were minuscule in comparison to the overall sense of accomplishment I felt riding every morning, competing on weekends, and successfully completing my first year of medical school.
As my lives continue on their separate and parallel paths, I am reminded of their similarities. As a medical student, you may feel like you fell supine onto concrete, gasping for breath, your head throbbing. You may experience mild amnesia and forget what day of the week it is, or the obligation to attend a family function. Your body might assume burden and ache for no physical reason. Despite these difficulties, we must all get back in the saddle and continue our arduous journey. We must recall our reasons for becoming medical students, and feel our passion for medicine resounding within us, even at the most difficult times.
Being both a medical student and equestrian has reminded me that each passion assists the other in my journey to becoming a well-rounded physician. If my determination is temporarily overwhelmed by my stressful schedule, looking into my horse’s loving eyes restores my self-confidence. And, although as a student doctor I should know better, I gladly risk the possibility of contracting Trychophyton equinum; a kiss on his nose is worth it and helps me tackle my daily routine as a medical student and equestrian.