You Gave Up on Me

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 15th, 2011 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

I just finished watching “Peaceful Warrior,” a movie based on Dan Millman’s life. I’m not sure which parts are fact and which are fiction. But the basic idea is that there is a very talented gymnast training to compete in the Olympics. He ends up in a serious motorcycle accident, through which one of his legs is shattered in somewhere around 15 different places.

Long story short, the Dan character has a mentor who helps Dan use the power of his mind to overcome the disability and in fact compete for a spot on the Olympic team.  At a couple of places along the way, Dan accuses a couple of people who don’t support his path, “You gave up on me!”

I resonated with those scenes. Because in my own journey, it was the primary theme of my experience with the medical system: They were perfectly happy to let my vibrant life go to hell. I was the model patient – doing everything in my power to take care of my body. And the very people who were supposed to help me heal in fact compromised my ability to heal – going so far as to actively get in my way.

My story is so fucking huge that it’s very hard for me to write pieces of it. But I keep not writing it, because I can’t write the whole damn thing in one sitting. So I’m working on getting myself to commit to writing snippets, even if they are not as thoroughly reported as I’d like. So here goes with this snippet:

The reason I ended up back in the United States, after having moved to Israel in 2002, is that when I came for a visit in 2006, I had complications following a very bad chiropractic adjustment a few months earlier. Doctors initially told me that my symptoms might indicate spinal chord damage – which was totally terrifying.

As it turned out, I did not have spinal chord damage. But I ended up in the hands of a doctor who actually listened to me, actually cared, and actually got me into physical therapy. Because my healing was my #1 priority in my life, I decided to stay in California – effectively giving up my very happy life in Israel. I remember telling my assistant, in fact, just a few months before I left, how I felt like I really belonged in Tel Aviv, how I was so very happy there, how everything felt perfect.

I gave it all up because I was dedicated to my healing.

Long story short, I was placed in a physical therapy program that initially was very helpful. The exercises they gave me, combined with my devotion to doing the work, enabled me to improve by leaps and bounds. One day, I was sharing with my physical therapists how excited I was that I was able to bike 18 miles and swim somewhere between ¼-1/2 mile in the same day.

They looked at each other as if I were crazy. You know, instead of congratulating or encouraging me. Wouldn’t you think that physical therapists would be totally exhilarated if their patient went from barely being able to lift her arm to being able to swim AND bike that much in one day? No. That’s all I got. A shared look as if I were crazy.

When your life has fallen to hell, and you’re doing everything in your power to heal yourself, and the people you’re going to for help with that healing do not encourage you, but rather discourage you – through words, looks, or actions – it can be debilitating. To the contrary, when practitioners offer love, faith, encouragement, and other forms of support, it can make the difference in one’s ability to heal.

I think a big part of why various healthcare practitioners gave up on me, before even giving me a shot, was that I was a young woman. Young women are still, today, in 2011, just expected to be pretty. Who cares if a young woman can no longer bike alone in the hills at 3 am or teach self-defense. That’s not a woman’s place anyhow.

I remember when I went to a physical therapist very early on in my quest to end the pain and disability I was experiencing. After I improved in my hip and therefore leg, the therapist experienced a marked difference in how firmly I was able to push against her hand.

“Wow,” she said. “When you were talking about how much strength you had lost, I didn’t take it seriously. I thought you were just complaining. But now that I feel your power, I understand what you meant and why you were upset.”

When I was a kid, my hearing was literally off the charts. So when I lost hearing, and was frustrated and upset by the loss, my experience was dismissed by doctors. Because my hearing was still above average. It was an outside-in approach to medicine, as opposed to taking me at face value and comparing my body to my body, instead of comparing it to someone else’s.

I used to press 300 pounds with my legs. But that’s not expected from, valued in, or encouraged in women. So when a woman loses that ability? Shrug of shoulders. No big loss. Similarly, when I suddenly went from being self-reliant to having to ask for help with lifting heavy things, nobody blinked. Nobody thought anything was wrong. Because we expect women to be weak anyhow.

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