Aaron Markwith, OMS-II
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine

For years, I counseled patients on the importance of taking care of themselves. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol seemed to dominate every patient chart I encountered. I knew the risks associated with all of these conditions, and it was shocking to me that there were so many people content to continue their day-to-day lives without regard for what the future would hold. Despite my active role in counselling others on health maintenance, I was guilty of the same behavior.

Each and every day I would wake up and go to a drive-through for breakfast. “I can stop anytime I want,” I told myself. “There are people way bigger than me that don’t have any medical problems. I’ll be fine.” At some point, we all get a wake up call, and mine came in my first year of medical school.

A little background about myself. I am 34 years old, and happily married with two wonderful children. I was 16 when I was first diagnosed with hypertension and started on 5 mg of amlodipine per day. As the years went by, I was diagnosed with dyslipidemia and pre-diabetes at the age of 21, followed by type II diabetes at the age of 26. I was always heavy; my maximum weight was 254 pounds back in April of 2017 (as an OMS-1). At that time, I was taking lisinopril, amlodipine, chlorthalidone, and atenolol for my hypertension, pravachol for my hypercholesterolemia, fenofibrate, niacin, and fish oil for my hypertriglyceridemia, and metformin for my diabetes which kept my HbA1c at 8.4. For years, I lived under the impression that the pills were giving me the opportunity to live my life the way I wanted. If my blood sugar was high, no problem, just take another pill. However, I was also in terrible shape.

I began to wonder what was the point of working so hard on classwork if my health problems were going to lead me to an early grave anyway. The only problem was that I had no idea how to rectify my health. Thankfully, I had a mentor: a former firefighter/paramedic, fellow classmate, and friend from before medical school. He was an inspiration, both physically and intellectually.

I asked if I could follow him around the gym. I began to do what he did, pushing myself harder and harder. Before I knew it, I was spending two hours a day at the gym. My diet changed from the “eat anything you want” diet to the “track everything you eat” diet. For 6 months, I ate 1,500 calories a day. French fries were replaced with fruits and vegetables and red meat was replaced with chicken and turkey. Within three months, I was down 30 pounds and off of my triglyceride medications. Within six months, I had lost 64 pounds, and I was no longer taking diabetes and hypertension medications. For the first time since I was 16 years old, I had no prescription medications!

In emergency medicine, we face grave challenges. Challenges that can raise our blood pressure, push us into sympathetic overdrive, and hasten our own demise if we are not physically (and emotionally) prepared for the environmental insult.  Our field is not a safe place for someone with skyrocketing blood pressures or clots ready to dislodge. We need to take care of ourselves, to not only demonstrate that we care about healthcare in general, but that we can physically continue the work we face each day.

We all face personal challenges. Whether it is struggling to succeed in school or struggling to maintain good health. Sometimes all we need is a little encouragement and guidance from a mentor. As a physician, I hope to be more than a source of advice and prescriptions. I hope to serve as a mentor to my patients in their path to good health.