“I felt extremely helpless at times when I could not pick up my young son due to back pain and weakness.” Only parents can relate to the pain of this statement. This was shared by a patient of mine.
This Janmashtami (September 7th), I received a message from Priti (name changed), my same patient, with an image of her lifting her seven-month-old son Arjun (name changed), similar to how Rafiki lifts Simba in The Lion King. Arjun was dressed as Lord Krishna.
“I couldn’t even lift my arms to gain a few pounds. Incredible! Every month I wondered how I was going to get it when he got older, but I guess our bodies get used to the weight as we do more. Sure, sometimes my back and arms hurt, but then it gets better. It’s slow and steady. But I love the feeling. Thank you. The feeling of carrying your baby is priceless. Everything I wanted to do and couldn’t because of my back with the first one, I do now. And thank you every time. And the crazy part is that all I needed was your reassurance and support. Dad also tells me that the first thing after you examined me, you said – “She’s fine”. And the stupid doctors in New York told me to put nails in my pelvis to fix my sacroiliac joint. All I needed was confidence and to slowly build my muscles!”
Preeti consulted me for the first time in March 2020, just before the Covid lockdown. She had traveled all the way from New York to find a cure for her severe back pain, which was massively interfering with her life and preventing her from doing regular activities that any mother would want to do, such as spending time with her toddler and being there every step of the way as the youngster discovered the world.
Priti was an investment banker on Wall Street but had to quit because of back pain. Until her late 20s, she led a very active lifestyle, but when she became a banker, everything changed. She developed severe lower back pain in 2014 and was diagnosed with a herniated disc. At that time she was only 31 years old. Her pain limited her physically active lifestyle. In 2015, she became pregnant. Fortunately, she found a good therapist who helped her get strong enough to deliver the baby.
The pregnancy and delivery went smoothly. However, after giving birth to the baby, she still had to regain her strength as she had not fully recovered from her back problem. For many months she nursed the baby lying down. She also failed to wear it.
The next few years passed with frequent neck, shoulder and back pain. She couldn’t go out much and the family’s social life was reduced. It started affecting her mentally and she was losing her confidence. Her son was her motivation and she had the drive to improve and get her life back to normal. And then she advised me.
About a month after the consultation, she shared:
“Being treated as a person with emotions and not just a physical body is very important and gives lasting results. And I was lucky enough to find help! I gained a lot of confidence to start exercising and walking. I even tried to run, even though it was only a few meters. I slowly realized that I could do more and more every day. The mental confidence I gained really helped me take it to the next level.
“It was definitely a journey of mind versus brawn. Recovery was very slow at first, but I continued to work hard. I realized that once we get past our mental barriers, physical barriers are easy to overcome. The pain really gets better, the muscles get stronger, and with a positive attitude and drive to get better, you can overcome your physical pain.”
About six months later, on Christmas Day 2020, Preeti sent me this message from New York.
“Finally I can have full fun with my family. This is the first year I’ve had a normal life – simple things like bending over, running, playing with my son, sitting and doing tons of crafts, baking which I’m passionate about, putting up Diwali diyas, decorating for Christmas and leading a normal everyday life! And most importantly, I enjoyed the first snow and finally got to bend down and make a snowman and a snow angel with my son. hooray! Thank you again!”
Earlier in February this year, Priti sent me another message.
“Dr Chauhan – here is our little baby. Thank you again for making me stronger and getting me fit! And you tell me to get stronger and be there and give me hope. I am finally in a better place mentally and physically and can easily deliver this cutie.”
There are several reasons why I am sharing Preeti’s journey. First, this is an update of her story that I shared last year in my book MoveMint Medicine – Your journey to peak health and even in my column here. It’s important to share how trusting your instincts and moving can dramatically improve your life as a whole.
Second, it is yet another reminder that science always follows art. What I mean here is that we doctors jump to conclusions from what we are taught in medical college, our medical training and years of research, sometimes without paying attention to what our patients want to share. We doctors need to listen to our patients much more. They are the ones who have lived their lives and know what works for them and what doesn’t. After all, we are all different and experience things differently.
Unfortunately, most of my colleagues are so busy focusing on science that they forget that they are dealing with people with feelings, not machines. They do not realize the power of their words and behavior. Unless you do, no one else will prioritize your mental and physical well-being. And without that, you just can’t get started.
Third, and most importantly, I wanted to highlight how most parents, especially mothers, prioritize spending quality time with their children, every step of the way. Not only Preity was very excited to be there for her children during their crucial stages, but even her parents who were there for her during milestones of her parenthood.
Just a week earlier, a 77-year-old lady, Mrs. Roshni Sherawat (name changed), consulted me. She has been seeing me for about a decade now for her aches and pains. Since we share a good relationship, she finally confided in me:
“Doctor, I have been a very independent woman all my life. It wasn’t easy. While dealing with the whims and fancies of my traditional joint family, I prioritized my children. I made sure they evolved into better human beings and studied well. I accomplished all of this while being a public school principal. Today, when I need help to get around, I get discouraged because I have always helped others. My son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are extremely good, but I hesitate to turn to them for help. I’m in a lot more mental pain than physical.”
The journey of the two mothers struggling with the move resonated closely with me. I lost my mother in October 2019. Mrs. Sherawat reminded me of my mother because she had done just that. But when she needed help, as passionately as I tried to help everyone else, I wasn’t there enough for my mom. I kept planning to see her but kept putting it off. She was well and healthy, or so I thought, and one fine day, with no apparent illness, she died. As much as I wanted to spend more time with her, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so.
I don’t want you, who still have parent(s) and child(ren), to be in this situation. I urge you to spend quality time with them, today, right now, instead of putting it off. There’s always time until it’s gone.
In memory of my mother, we had put together ‘The Sneh Lata – Walk With Your Parents’ on 5th January 2020, her first birthday after her death. It was not meant to be an event, but a movement, because we should do it anytime, anywhere. And it’s not to help them, it’s just to be there, every step of the way with them, or as much as you can. They were there for you.
Keep smiling and smiling.
Dr. Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) is the author of The Pain Handbook: A non-surgical way to manage back, neck and knee pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your journey to peak health and La Ultra: Couch to 5, 11 and 22 km in 100 days
He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.
Opinions expressed are personal