Doctors have the power to fix our bodies, but those who truly listen wield the most power of all .
I came to you with my heart in my hands. I was at the bottom of a pit that I had started sliding into five years earlier when I’d broken my ankle playing roller derby. It seemed like from the moment of the break, I hadn’t been able to catch my breath. Recovery had been isolating and hard. The forced inactivity had been a trigger for the anxiety and depression I kept at bay with exercise. It was a year before I was really back to a functional physical level, and then I was hit by a flurry of successive punches that kept me staggering, never able to get off my knees.
Bam! A pregnancy. Bam! A miscarriage. Bam! Another pregnancy. Bam! Post-partum depression. Bam! My entire career was gone as I was laid off from what I thought was my lifelong position. But it couldn’t end all at once. It was a long, drawn-out six months of wondering and hoping and fretting and crying. Bam! Bam! Bam!
So when I found myself in your office, I was desperate. I knew that I was depressed. I knew that I wasn’t in a position to make any of the best choices for my health or my daily activities. I knew that I needed to work out more, eat better, meditate, get outside, stretch, and all those other tasks that seem so simple when you’re doing them and feel like mountains to climb when you’re not.
But I also knew something else. There was something wrong with my leg. Ever since I had delivered my son three years earlier, my hip hadn’t been quite right. When I tried to run (or some days even just go down the stairs or get off the couch), it hurt. A lot. It was on the opposite side as my broken ankle, and it was also my right leg, one that is notoriously underworked in roller skaters because that’s not the side we put weight on as we go around turns, almost always in the same direction—causing imbalance. I couldn’t squat (and my go-to stress relief is weightlifting). I couldn’t run (the primary way I get out of my own head and find some focus). I kept trying to get back on top of things, but it wasn’t working. That’s how I ended up sitting on your table.
It had taken a long time. I didn’t have a primary care physician since mine had retired years earlier. You had a waitlist a few months long, but so did everyone, so I got on it and waited. I had so much hope for this appointment. If I could just get physical therapy, I believed I could be pain-free. I could run again. I could lift weights again. I could start to come out from under the rubble.
I could tell you didn’t hear me. I could tell you were just looking at the numbers on my file. My weight. My height. That BMI. My age. They told you all you thought you needed to know.
“This is just what happens as people get older,” you said, barely looking up from the computer screen. I was 34. I insisted that something was wrong with my leg. Something that needed attention. “You just need to lose some weight,” you told me.
I felt so deflated. Ten months of waiting to get into this room where I thought I’d get help, and I wasn’t being heard. Even if you were right and weight was the issue, couldn’t I be right, too? Wouldn’t my goals help your goals?
It would be another long waitlist before I got in to see another doctor. This one, though, listened. She got me into sports medicine the very next week. I started physical therapy within ten days of seeing her. I was running pain-free six weeks later.
When I went back to see her for a follow-up, I had dropped 13 pounds. I didn’t even know it. I wasn’t focused on losing that weight. I was focused on moving, feeling the mental clutter of the past five years finally loosen up as I hoisted a heavy bar over my head, feeling the walls that had been squeezing in ease up a bit as I ran beneath the trees. All the other choices got easier, too. I started eating better, going outside, getting up from my desk to stretch.
I stepped on the scale for the first time since that follow-up appointment the other day, and I was shocked to find out I was down ten more pounds. It wasn’t my goal. I don’t believe weight is a measure of health, but I do believe that my injury was blocking me from the actions that make me healthiest. My weight was a side effect of returning to those healthy activities—it was never the driver of them.
I hope that the next time someone sits on your examination table with their heart in their hands, you’ll listen to them.