An Honest Look into the Mirror
Seeing Your Current Health on the Staircase of Life
I returned to help people this week, or help one person, feel a little better. I’m working to help a man with his post-surgery exercises, stretches and regular chores around his house. The goal is to be independent and return to normalcy in the most non-normal of times.
His mind is clear, but his health is failing him faster than he realizes. On a short walk this afternoon, he declared in frustration, “I wasn’t like this a year ago.” He detailed his last European holiday with his wife, the last time he really enjoyed himself. He returned from this vacation and went around the US searching for the best specialist for his issue. He picked one, read about the risks and signed the disclaimer, only to wake up after his operation a different person without feeling in his right foot.
I agreed, “It’s not fair, so we have to focus on what’s working and make it better to create your best, new life.”
I rambled about feeding your mind and how he should read about athletes who overcame injury to walk and run again. I wasn’t sure the name of the books, but there must be thousands. Or, a wounded veteran who PT-ed himself back to walking on his own.
He dismissed the book idea and said, “I am not a sit down and read kind of guy. I was a fit man who got things done. I spent my life yelling at crews and people in my factory.”
Misperceptions of Health
While taking care of my mother a few years ago, her health was slipping, and those closest to her couldn’t see it. A NYC special, specialist in a white lab coat asked if she could draw something for me. “Of course, I am a visual learner.” The specialist drew stairs on the scratch paper. The kind that you’d draw in a hurry if you were playing Pictionary. Then, the doctor started at the top and added an “X” and said, “This was ten years ago when your mother first noticed a change in her health.” Then, the doctor went through each stair and labeled it with an incident like breast cancer or an illness like pneumonia. She made a different kind of timeline that didn’t level out after each event. “You see, your mother has gone through a lot, and has not re-climbed the staircase.”
The kind specialist didn’t have to say the obvious. That with each step down, she was failing, not getting better. I was thankful for the lesson on health incidents, disease and aging, and grateful for it now. Obviously, not all people are the same, but aging generally doesn’t take you up the stairs to the person that you remember.
Minding the Step
This mindset is not limited to my patient who’s frustrated with his immobility; we are all getting older. It’s possible that we are all searching for an elixir to roll back the years, take away the pain, discover something to run faster, or a potion to wake-up with less wrinkles?
Let’s strive to be happy with our current step, and avoid slipping farther down as long as possible. Happily holding on and lifting others up.
Thanks for reading for this story. For more stories, check out As Much as I Care to Remember, a story about a girl and her adventures with Bipolar Disorder and searching for understanding.