It's not our job to decide what's important to you.
“You can run 2 miles casually a couple times a week, but you won’t be able to run competitively again.” I held back my tears just long enough for the physician’s assistant who said these words to me to leave the room. I was 19. I was a Division I runner. And while in my own hindsight, to you reading this now, and clearly to that PA, my competitive running career was rather trivial in the grand scheme of life, it was very important to me at the time.
One of my friends once told me, “Everyone has their goldfish.” By this mantra she meant that while someone is suffering a truly catastrophic life event, a little kid somewhere else in the world just lost her pet goldfish. (Let’s be honest, that goldfish was probably 6 days out from the county fair and never actually stood a chance.) Objectively, the death of the goldfish pales in comparison to a true life-altering tragedy, but in that moment, to that little girl, the death of her goldfish is a big deal and deserves every bit of sympathy and grace for the situation she is going through.
So in that doctor’s office over a decade ago, my proverbial goldfish had died. You see, at the time I was accustomed to running 50 miles a week and racing on weekends. Running was part of my teenage identity, and I had big immediate and lifelong running goals. Running a slow 6 miles per week and never competing again was not going to cut it for me, and perhaps the weight of that PA’s words did not hurt nearly as much as realization that he was, in part, responsible for an outcome without caring about my input. He had deemed running unimportant, insignificant collateral in the name of making me healthy again. He was missing the fact that while my bones might heal without running, mentally, I would feel like I was missing a part of myself by not being able to do what I loved again.
I often put myself back in my 19-year-old shoes before I deliver my recommendations now to patients because physical therapy is more than bones and muscles here. I firmly believe that it is not up to your healthcare provider to decide what is important to you. It’s up to you to decide what’s important to you, and then it is up to us to use our expertise to make recommendations as to how you are going to be able to get there. We can educate you on what is in your best interest based off your condition, but at the end of the day, we work for you. We work with you. We do not set the goals; we just develop the plan.
If you want to play in that game this weekend, not miss a round of golf this summer, play Legos on the floor with your grandson, or dance at your daughter’s wedding…Just name your goldfish. We won’t tell you, “No.” We will just figure out the best way for you to do it.