Ethical medical running question: What would you do?

I was at a birthday party yesterday where I met a military doctor. “Oh good!” he said. “You’re the marathon runner Jeremy [one of the hosts] was telling me about. I have a question for you.” I’m always excited for running-related questions, and I readied myself with answers about fueling and training plans. But that wasn’t what he asked. Here’s the situation. And I’m curious what you guys think since I know how I answered the question before he even finished the thought.

He said he had a patient who was injured. He was a hard-core marathoner. He used to run around the base to stay sane wherever he was stationed. He took a bullet in the back of one of his legs, and it injured his sciatic nerve. And it turns out there are a few nerves here, which I didn’t know, but anyway, one of them was badly injured. After a certain period of time, he said, the doctors assessed that the nerve was never going to be able to repair itself. This meant the runner had a foot drop, meaning he could not flex his foot. When you can’t flex your foot, you can’t run. But, the doctor said, the patient could have walked or could have been taught to walk just fine. Just no running.

So here’s the thing. The doctor said the patient, on hearing the news, asked the medical team to amputate his leg. He wants to learn to run with a prosthesis. He wants the quality of life he used to have before the injury, not the quality of life that would admittedly be acceptable to most people. As the doctor was going through the story, I said, “Oh, of course, you amputate.” He said he’d asked several runners this question, and they responded pretty much the same.

I know I won’t be able to run forever. People point out that my knees are going to give out eventually and that I will certainly get slower. I actually hope some day, many decades from now, I gradually slow to a walk because I can’t go any faster. I hope I’m not sidelined by injuries in the meantime. I would be fine if it played out like that. But I’m saying right now if I lost the ability to run and there was something I could do to regain it, I would almost undoubtedly make a choice to try to get it back.

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Amanda

Amanda runs nearly every day. She likes data and avoids deer at all costs.