We all know that exercise, a good diet, self-care, stress management are essential for a healthy, and hopefully, long life. However, it can be difficult to follow through. Lack of time, energy, work, and the stress of life derails us. It takes a lot of discipline and a good dose of self-control to stay on the path to “save your life.”
Good Fortune/Bad Fortune
I have the good fortune of working in a hospital, working with the sickest of the sick frequently. My patients are those whose lives change instantly with a stroke, car accident, heart attack, or other seemingly sudden misfortune. Contrast this with those patients who accumulate numerous illnesses over time, each illness compounding another. The result: a patient with a quality of life that is seriously impaired.
How is this fortunate, to see misfortune every time I work? For me, it’s a constant reminder to stay on the path mentioned above. Yet, doing all the right things doesn’t ensure a disease-free life. I learned that first hand with a cancer diagnosis at age 31, in a seemingly healthy body. Unlike many patients I treat, I followed the rules. But, we can not just roll the dice, or give up because of these odds. (Today, I am still motivated to run, and be healthy.)
My Role in the First “Step” of Their New Life
I’m a Physical Therapist Assistant. My role is to help patients start on the road to rehab or recovery. It may mean helping a person sit up, stand, walk, move to a chair, or move a body part for the first time. Or sometimes, I hear them speak for the first time, feel them squeeze my hand, or smile for the first time. Sitting up, or standing probably doesn’t sound significant; we take these things for granted. And yet, when these seemingly easy tasks become a momentous task, it’s a different story.
“Good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings.”
~ Publilius Syrus
A Privilege, and a Burden
On many occasions, I have worked with a trauma, stroke or traumatic brain injury patient who is achieving one of these “simple” tasks. Family members are there, watching with anticipation, fear, concern and joy. They often are on the phone with another family member, giving a “play by play” account of what is happening real time. Or, they are taking photos for family and friends to see. There are often tears, smiles, or both. It is a privilege to be a part of this, to enable the first step in their rehab, their independence, and in a small way, help save their life.
Yes, I sometimes see positive outcomes with my work. But, I often see the negative, working with patients who are not progressing, or very little. I see the disappointment, worry, the dreams lost in their eyes, and in the eyes of their friends and family. I hear a patient speak of concern for their future, finances, independence, and the impact on themselves and their family. Friends and family members trying to cope with a new reality of a loved one who may need assistance every time they attempt to move, or so much assistance, that taking them home is not an option.
Pink Floyd’s “Time” Lyrics
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
Can They Save Their Own Life?
I look at these patients and wish they could turn back time, rewind some choices made over the course of a lifetime. Choices that have culminated potentially to them lying in a hospital bed now. Didn’t they know that their choices, their habits affect them today? Or, understand that the drink, cigarette, drug, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or sleep played into their demise? Didn’t they realize wearing a seatbelt or helmet mattered? Or, that their 50 hour/week “dream job” sacrificed family time, time to exercise, ultimately impacting their health and happiness?
Know one small decision leads to another, then another, ultimately leading you on a path potentially far from the one intended. Be mindful of your choices, know that they can and often DO make a difference. Remember those choices not only impact you, but all those that love, care, or depend on you. Don’t take your health for granted. It is a privilege to have a fully functioning body, one that is in every moment performs miraculous and complex functions that we don’t fully realize. Save your own life. And please, wear your seatbelt.