The Art of Science and Fitness | A doctor's reminder to cherish family - Hindustan Times
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The Art of Science and Fitness | A doctor's reminder to cherish family

Oct 22, 2023 10:00 AM IST

As people age, their greatest fear isn't illness or death but reliance on others. It's time we support those who once supported us and boost their confidence.

“I felt extremely low at times when I could not lift my infant son because of my back pain and weakness.” Only parents can relate to the pain of this statement. This had been shared by a patient of mine.

I urge you to please spend quality time with them, today, right now, rather than postponing it.(pixabay) PREMIUM
I urge you to please spend quality time with them, today, right now, rather than postponing it.(pixabay)

This Janmashtami (7th September) I received a text from Preeti (name changed), that same patient of mine, with an image of her lifting up her seven-month-old son Arjun (name changed), resembling how Rafiki lifted Simba in The Lion King. Arjun was dressed as Lord Krishna.

Preeti wrote:

“I couldn’t even raise up my arms to lift a couple of kilograms. It's amazing! Every month I would wonder how I would pick him up as he grows big, but I guess our body gets used to the weight as we do more. Of course, sometimes my back and arms hurt, but then it gets OK. It's slow and steady. But I love the feeling. Thank you. The feeling of carrying your baby is priceless. Everything that I wanted to do and couldn’t because of my back with the first one, I am doing now. And every time I thank you. And the crazy part is that I only needed confidence and support from you. Papa still tells me that the first thing after examining me, you said - ‘There’s nothing wrong with her’. And the stupid docs in New York told me to get nails attached to my pelvis to fix my sacroiliac joint. All I needed was confidence and to build up my muscles slowly!”

Preeti first consulted me in March of 2020, just before the Covid lockdown. She had travelled all the way from New York to find a cure for her severe back pain that was massively hampering her life, and preventing her from doing regular activities that any mother would love to do, such as spending time with her young child, and being there each step of the way as the young one discovered the world.

Preeti had been an investment banker on Wall Street but had to quit her job because of her back pain. Till her late 20s, she led a very active lifestyle, but becoming a banker changed all that. She developed severe low back pain in 2014 and was diagnosed with herniated discs. She was only 31 at that time. Her pain was limiting her physically active lifestyle. In 2015, she got pregnant. Fortunately, she found a good therapist who helped her to get strong enough to deliver the baby.

Her pregnancy and delivery went smoothly. However, after having the baby, she still had to rebuild her strength as she had not fully recovered from her back issue. For many months, she took care of the baby lying down. She was not able to carry him either.

The next few years were spent with frequent neck, shoulder and back pains. She could not go out much, and the family’s social life was reduced. This started affecting her mentally and she was losing her confidence. Her son was her motivation and she had the drive to get better and get her life back to normal. And that’s when she consulted me.

About a month after the consultation, she had shared:

“Being treated like a human with emotions and not just a physical body goes a long way and gives lasting results. And I was lucky to have found help! I gained a lot of confidence to start with exercising and going out for walks. I even tried running, even though it was just a few metres. Slowly, I realized that I could do more and more every day. The mental confidence that I got really helped me move to the next level.

“It was definitely a journey of mind against muscles. The recovery was very slow in the beginning, but I kept working hard. I have come to realize that once we get past our mental barriers, physical barriers are easy to conquer. The pain does get better, muscles do get stronger and with a positive attitude and a drive to get better, you can overcome your physical pain.”

After about six months, on Christmas in 2020, Preeti sent this message to me from New York.

“I’m finally able to fully enjoy myself with my family. This is the first year I had a normal life - simple things like bending, running, playing with my son, sitting and making tons of crafts, baking, which I am passionate about, putting diyas on Diwali, decorating for Christmas and leading a normal everyday life! And most importantly, I enjoyed that first snow, and could finally bend and make a snowman and snow angel with my son. Hurray! Thank you again!”

Earlier in February this year, Preeti sent me another message.

“Dr Chauhan - here is our little baby. Thank you again for making me stronger and pushing me to get fit! And telling me to get stronger and being there and giving me hope. I’m finally at a better place mentally and physically and could easily deliver this cutie.”

There are a few reasons why I am sharing Preeti’s journey. Firstly, this is an update on her story 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 getting moving, can drastically improve your overall life.

Secondly, it is yet again a reminder that science always follows art. What I mean here is that we doctors make conclusions from what we are taught in medical college, our medical training and research over years sometimes without paying attention to what our patients are wanting to share. We doctors need to listen to our patients a lot more. They are the ones who have lived their lives and know what works for them and what doesn't. After all, we all are different and we experience things differently.

Sadly, most of my colleagues get so busy focusing on science that they forget that they are dealing with humans with feelings and not machines. They don’t realise the power of words and their behaviour. Unless you do, no one else is going to prioritise your mental and physical well-being. And without that, you simply can’t get started.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I wanted to highlight how most parents, especially mothers, prioritise spending quality time with their children, each step of the way. It wasn’t only Preeti who was very excited to be there for her children during their crucial milestones, but even her parents, who were there for her during her important milestones of parenthood.

Just a week earlier, a 77-year-old lady, Mrs Roshni Sherawat (name changed), consulted me. She has been seeing me on and off for about a decade for her aches and pains. Since we share a good rapport, she eventually confided in me:

“Doctor, I have been a very independent woman throughout my life. It hasn’t been easy. While addressing the whims and fancies of my traditional joint family, I prioritised my children. I made sure they evolved into better human beings and studied well. I managed all this while being a principal in a government school. Today, when I need help to move around, I get very disheartened as I have been the one who has always helped others. My son, my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren are exceptionally good but I hesitate to reach out to them for help. I am in so much more mental pain rather than physical.”

The journey of both these mothers, struggling with moving, resonated closely with me. I lost my mother in October 2019. Mrs Sherawat reminded me of my mother because she had done exactly that too. But when she needed help, as much as I was passionately trying to help everyone else, I wasn’t there enough for my mother. I kept planning to see her but I kept postponing that. She was well and hearty, or I thought, and one fine day, without any obvious illness, she passed away. As much as I wanted to spend more time with her, I didn’t get the chance to do that.

I don’t want you, who still have your parent(s) and child(ren) around, to be in this position. I urge you to please spend quality time with them, today, right now, rather than postponing it. There is always time until there isn’t anymore.

In my mother’s memory, we had put together ‘The Sneh Lata - Walk With Your Parents’ on January 5th, 2020, her first birthday after her passing away. It wasn’t intended to be an event but a movement, because we should be doing it anytime, anywhere. And it’s not to help them, but just to be there, each step of the way with them, or as much as you can. They were there for you.

Keep miling and smiling.

Dr Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) is the author of The Pain Handbook: A non-surgical way to managing back, neck and knee pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days

He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

The views expressed are personal

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