Prior to entering a new patient’s room, I review words and numbers in a chart in order to gather as much information as possible. Reading a patient’s chief complaint, I learn about the nature of his or her visit whereas her past medical history gives information that begins to tell a story about what her life has held and what her body has experienced.
Upon meeting a patient, I am required to get personal rather quickly. After introductions, I am tasked with investigating what her life looked like prior to arriving at the hospital. With each answer given, a patient paints a picture of her prior mobility level. Although I am assessing what her body is capable of today, I realize that her ability to move is impacted by countless experiences that her body has endured up to that point.
As a physical therapist, I am considered a movement expert. My job is to evaluate how a patient is able to move functionally. Can she raise her arms and legs against gravity? Is she able to roll to the right and left in the bed? Does she need help transitioning from lying down to sitting up on the side of the bed? How is her balance in sitting? Does she need assistance to stand? Is she able to get from the bed to a chair? To the bathroom? To the hallway?
As a patient moves her body in the bed and eventually into a sitting position, I am reminded that we each have our own unique way of moving our bodies. Together, our body systems work in conjunction to allow us to move freely. In the process of evaluating each new patient, I listen as she tells me about her particular body. I often find myself curious about the stories behind the information she shares with me.
Our bodies are an authentic record of our lives—the sport we played competitively, the car accident we survived, the disease that attacked our body as a young adult, the children we carried, and so on. What does your body say about you?
I am often curious what story my medical history will say about me in years to come. Boiling hot water left a significant scar when it doused me as a five-year-old, stiffening my ankle and numbing the surrounding skin. While a teenager, my pubescent body betrayed me by sending my leg one direction and my knee the opposite way. As my body grew and expanded through both of my pregnancies, my breasts, abdomen, and legs sported stretch marks to accommodate new life within me.
As I ponder the physical effects of our stories on the body, I am profoundly aware of the role that the mind, spirit, and our social lives play too.
How often do we consider the way that trauma, loss, loneliness, and grief have a way of showing up physically in our bodies?
Standing upright in my in my kitchen after a searing attack on my partially deserving husband, I stop to pay attention to my body. My body weight is shifted onto my right leg. There is a gnawing pain encompassing my left knee. My breath is short and shallow as the ache in my chest tightly yanks both shoulders forward. I roll my shoulders back, open up my chest, and slowly breathe through my diaphragm. My brain hurts. My heart aches. Walking towards my bedroom, I feel a repetitive, deep pop in my hip, and I draw in my abdominals to lessen the discomfort. A burning sensation lingers in my thighs from a quick walk around the block, and I wonder to myself, “When did I become so weak?”
Honoring the weight of my story and the gravity of my days is an opportunity to care for my whole self—mind, spirit, soul, and body. When I stop to notice what I feel, I am in touch with more than mere physicality. An injury from thirty years ago aches when inflammation floods my joint, limiting my flexibility and magnifying my pain. My sons’ rage-filled meltdowns send cortisol coursing through my body, increasing my blood pressure and contributing to the weakness I’m noticing throughout my body. How often I am tempted to address my physical pain without offering care to the underlying cause?
To name our need in these spaces is an invitation to care for ourselves in ways that are unfamiliar and at times unpopular. What might happen if each one of us listened to the story of our body to determine what care is needed on a deeper level? Being able to move our bodies freely is a gift. What if, instead of cursing ourselves for the ways our body betrays us, we offer ourselves kindness and attend to all of our needs?
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.