My Starting Line

On my run today, I thought about a patient of mine—we’ll call her JJ. I’ve known JJ for more than a decade. When I first met her, she came in for a check-up. I was asking her the usual questions about her history and her overall health and she told me she had just run a marathon. I was totally impressed.

I wasn’t a runner at the time—well, unless you count my brief cross-country career in high school when distance days meant me running back to my friend Judy’s house to watch General Hospital, and then running back to school like I’d actually done something. The thought of running a marathon was crazy to me. 26.2 miles!?

I asked her, “Do you walk at all during the marathon?”

“Sure, you have to walk at least a little bit,” she said candidly.

I thought that seemed a little more reasonable. JJ was a woman with a job, and friends, and a life, and she didn’t seem like one of these freakish run-or-die types who was obsessed with running or how fast they ran or qualifying for the Boston Marathon (can you imagine?! What kind of freak is that?!).

To top this first visit off, we realized we were neighbors.

So, that was my inspiration of sorts. That visit with JJ. From that point, I started trying to get in shape, and I thought of JJ and her running. She had told me about a couple of nice, easy runs around our ‘hood’, so I tried them and they weren’t too bad. There is this one hill you have to go up to get to the parkway, so I would just walk up the hill—no need to go crazy, after all.

A little while after the first visit with JJ, she came back in for a follow-up visit and I told her about my progress. I told her about some of the runs I did—which she had suggested—and I told her openly, “But I walk up the hill.”

Surprisingly, she retorted, “Oh no, you have to run up the hill!”

Again, JJ did not seem like a runner-freak, she just seemed like a normal person. So, I thought, ok, I’ll run up the hill. And that was that, I was hooked. Once I conquered that hill, running became real for me.

JJ and I have been talking about running for the last decade. We’re so engrained in the community of running, we even ran into each other on the plane ride to the Chicago Marathon!

Sadly, JJ had some other lingering health issues she’s battled with over the years so it looks like JJ and I won’t be seeing as much of each other, which makes me sad.

At JJ’s recent visit, we did a little wrap-up and touched base on health issues for her going forward. We are both close to the big 5-0 birthday mark and I talked to her about colon cancer screening and getting a colonoscopy. She said she’ll do it. But then she asked me if I had done mine.

Oh boy, kind of like walking up the hill, I’ve kind of side-stepped the whole colonoscopy thing so far.

She, as patient’s often do, kept me honest and said, “Oh no, Dr. G, you have to get the colonoscopy.”

JJ is right, of course, just as she was about running up that hill.

I’ve got to say, I love when I get to teach my patients about their health, but sometimes the patients are the teachers too, and for that, I’m grateful.


— Joyce Gottesfeld, MD, is an OB/GYN and has been practicing with Kaiser Permanente Colorado for 21 years. She’s a wife, proud mother of three girls, and an avid runner. When she is not doing the work that she loves – delivering babies, performing surgery, and helping women in the most personal area of their lives – she is making her way through the crazy chaos of a full life.