Changing A Way of Life
My dad was a runner. Was. He ran in high school, took a break through his 20s and picked it up again during his 30s. I remember giving him a hug after his long Sunday runs and smelling his sweaty clothes. I remember trying a piece of his energy bars and hating the flavor. Some of my favorite pictures are of my sister and I sitting with my dad at the finish line of his latest marathon. He was an athlete!
When I think of him today, I think of him as a runner. It is a central part of his character, his DNA, and the person he is today. That was before the arthritis took over his knees. A few old basketball injuries took their toll on his meniscus and ACL, and before long he was running nearly bone-on-bone. Dad started tapering his runs but eventually was unable to enjoy even the shortest Sunday jog.
After looking at his X-rays, our family physician could only recommend for Dad to stop running. He warned that any further running would only irreversibly damage his knee. My Dad came home from that appointment upset. He thought there would be more options than simply quitting running. Running was his saving grace. It was his leisure time, his hobby, his exercise and his decompression time from the chaos of life.
In the years after my Dad stopped running, he attempted nearly every other form of exercise. He biked, swam and tried speed-walking. Nothing clicked. Nothing will ever give him what running did to his spirit. When I started running a few years ago, a big part of it was because my Dad was a runner. I wanted to get that "runner's high" he talked about, and I wanted to be proud of myself for finishing long races like he had.
I had a patient last week who had just undergone a rotator cuff replacement for the second time, solely because she wanted to return to playing tennis. She talked and talked about how much tennis meant to her, how much quality it added to her life and how devastated she was in the months of injury when we wasn't able to play.
As our schedules get busier and busier at work and we see more patients in a day, it's easy to look past these points. We see an injury and apply interventions, then move on to the next. We ask our patients for their goals and write down "return to tennis," but do we really understand the weight of that goal? Sometimes it may take us a while to figure out the right intervention, and maybe progress is slow, but our patients go to physical therapy for that reason. Because they would rather make slow progress than change their way of life, or be forced to give up the important activities that make them who they are.