How my Personal Health Struggles have Made Me a Better Healthcare Professional: Part 1
I spend a lot of time educating other people on what to do in their health and fitness journeys. I encourage and support them. I educate and empower. I use my knowledge to help people feel good and live good in their bodies. And I love it so much. There is no greater satisfaction than someone telling me thank you after a good yoga classes or telling me how good they feel after working with me or someone telling me my hands are magic!
A lot of what I do in my business is driven by experiences I have had in my own life. I draw from my experiences and I use them to fuel my passion. I struggle through them and learn through them. I share my wins and I share my losses. This isn’t for everyone but I find it helps me be a more connected healthcare practitioner.
I realized something the other day that made me sad. I realized that I present myself as very healthy, happy and successful…. Even if that is not always the case. I realize that between social media and being able to function at my job despite what is going on outside of it, I seem like I got my shit together. Let me tell you.. I do… but I also don’t. AND that is okay! The sad part is that I have had patients, saying “You have all the same stressors as me and MORE and look you’re doing it. You’re managing.” While yes I am managing, I am NO better than my patients when it comes to my struggles and demons. My struggles are mine and I do my best everyday to get through it.
On top of that, a lot of people also think that Physical Therapists are never in pain and they are never limited by their injuries. As if we magically cure injuries in our own body the minute they occur. Ipso facto: No pain, EVER. We have NO idea what it feels like to be in pain…… I hope you know I am being facetious because YES, we do experience pain. Over my lifetime so far I have experienced knee pain, hip pain, back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, ankle pain and I am sure I will experience more as my life goes on. I am NOT immune because I have my doctorate.
I wanted to share some of my health struggles over the years so you can see how I have learned from it and how it got me to where I am today. Looking back on it, every single struggle has led me down a path to where I am right now.
I wanted to share some of my health struggles over the years so you can see how I have learned from it and how it got me to where I am today. Looking back on it, every single struggle has led me down a path to where I am right now. This will be a long read so thank you for sticking around
Let’s Start at the Beginning.
I’ll take it back to June of 2008… 11 years ago. It was the day after my Sweet 16 (how long island of me!) and I was playing in my first summer league lacrosse tournament. First game, sprinting down the field, Big step, defender on my side, mid throw...snap, boom, black out. I didn’t know it then but I tore my ACL.
I was devastated.
I started Physical Therapy prior to surgery and I continued 3 times a week for 6 months after surgery. I was dedicated. I was struggling mentally with the fact that I couldn’t play sports and that I couldn’t keep up with my friends on the weekends. It took a huge toll on my mental health (which I didn’t realize at the time) and physical therapy was my outlet. Physical Therapy was my safe haven and I adored my physical therapist. All I wanted to do was get back to playing sports, especially lacrosse as I was hell bent on playing lacrosse in college. My physical therapist got me there and I could not have been more grateful. Thus, started my endless love affair with Physical Therapy, exercise and rehabilitation. I would not wish an ACL surgery on anyone but mine was the best thing that could have happened to me.
It led me to the career of my dreams.
My next major health issues was in my junior year of college. I just got back from the best 4 months of my life studying abroad in Australia. I was sad to be back but I was ready for my junior year of lacrosse. After a rough sophomore year of riding the bench, I was ready to bust my butt and earn my playing time on the team. The universe had another plan.
At the beginning our pre season, I came down with a fever on Thursday. My athletic trainer sent me to Tufts medical who diagnosed me with the flu and rest and fluids.
My fever continued to climb higher— around 104. My athletic trainer monitored me and I rested. The day of our first scrimmage my fever spiked to 104 degrees. I thought I was going to be playing so my dad dad happened to be coming up to Boston for the scrimmage. Instead of watching me play, he dragged me to the the emergency room. We sat there for 5 hours and my fever broke. The next morning I woke up with no voice and numbness and tingling in my L inner forearm and L pinky. I got better over the weekend as I rested and my dad went home. Then I got worse. The following Tuesday I had one glass of wine with friends and the next morning, I woke up at 5 am with excruciating pain in my L forearm/hand and when I turned over in bed, my entire body felt like it was moaning. I felt so incredibly creaky and achey, like I had aged 50 years in a night. A once healthy 20 something, I could barely roll out of bed. I waited until 6 am called my athletic trainer crying, knowing that she was in the gym at 6 am on Wednesdays and thanking my lucky stars that it was her early day. I went right in to see her and she (being the angel she was) facilitated my care. She sent me back to Tufts med and requested they draw blood. My inflammation markers were high so they asked me if I had been drinking a lot lately. I was 20 years old and afraid to get in trouble but admitted I had one glass of wine with friends. That one glass of wine did not account for how high my inflammation markers were. Based on that blood work they decided I needed to go somewhere for further testing because they had no idea what was going on with me. A this point, my entire body was swollen. Somewhere along this first week or two they ruled out meningitis to everyone’s relief. The bad part: I wasn’t allowed to play lacrosse until I saw a specialist and had more bloodwork done. I was on hold for an extended, unclear period of time.
Around this time, spring break was slowly approaching and my team was going to Florida—for the first time! The rule was set that I was only allowed to go if I had no fever for 48 hours straight. I had figured out that my fever got worse if I spent an extended period of time in cold weather. So I stayed indoors and in bed. I documented my fever and for the three days before our flight I had NO fever. YAY I was able to go to Florida!
My joints were so incredibly swollen. I felt like a swollen blob of blah. So swollen that my socks were cutting into my ankles, I couldn’t wear rings or watches and my spine felt swollen. Like how is that even possible !?
I made it to Florida and felt okay. My joints hurt but I could move more easily. Swimming felt good and so did the warm weather, I thought momentarily that everything was going ot be okay. That this was a fluke. Our first day back in Boston we had a game. It rained and poured and was probably 40 degrees out. I spiked the highest fever I had ever had and felt the worst I had. I didn’t leave my bed for 4 days straight. From there the cycle began: go outside, spike a 103 fever, sleep for 3 days. Attempt to go to class. Repeat.
I didn’t play lacrosse all season and I didn’t drink alcohol all season. I did my best to stay warm, I dropped a class and I struggled with severe nerve pain. I was poked and prodded and had blood drawn to no end. I was passed from neurologist to rheumatologist to infectious disease doctor like a hot potato. The neurologist and rheumatologist couldn’t find anything in their realm wrong with me so they wrote me off-- basically never to see me again because oh well, someone else will figure it out. My mother came up to Boston about 8-10 times in 4 months to take me to doctors appointments because I was so overwhelmed with my sickness I could barely handle it myself. I remember one time having to take a cab down to one of the Boston hospitals and nearly having a panic attack. Between traffic, remembering what part of the hospital I had to go to and taking in information, I was totally drained after the outing.
It was one of the most infuriating experiences of my life. I was in excruciating nerve pain down my left arm 24/7 and my joints ached constantly. No matter how much I advocated for myself, I didn’t feel heard. No matter how many tests were done, no one could help me. I kept talking and asking questions and never felt like I was being listened too. I felt hopeless and misunderstood. At this point, I would have taken ANY diagnosis. I just wanted to know what the hell I was supposed to do. That never happened. One day, I just got better. It took a little time and I had one relapse but eventually I got better. And as quickly as I fell ill, I got better. That in itself was just as confusing and frustrating. To this day, I still can’t fully tell you what happened or what I went through. It was huge blur.
At the end of hte whole experience, one doctor told me that I had mono in my system and I had the strep virus. They concluded I had “Post Strep Arthritis” a step down from Rheumatoid Arthritis. There was no way to get an official diagnosis so that was that.
The experience was a defining experience of who I am to my core and who I became as a healthcare provider. The experience has made me more passionate about advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves or who don’t know how to advocate for themselves. I have learned the value of listened and truly hearing a patient even if what they are saying has NOTHING to do with what they are experiencing. The simply act of someone sitting front of you and saying “I hear you, that makes sense that you are feeling that way.” is fucking magical. In retrospect, I also realized one of the most infuriating aspects of the whole ordeal was none of the doctors spoke to each other and forget about communicating with me or my parents. I was continuously poked and prodded and passed on. No one shared test results (even though they were on the same system) and no one wanted to collaborate. If they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, they didn’t want to see me anymore and they didn’t want to help me find the care I needed. And that is a HUGE flaw in the medical system.
Due to this my vision, is to always communicate and collaborate with my colleagues. Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, acupuncturists, doctors, mental health therapists, you name the discipline. We are all in this together and we can all help if we work together. Sometimes, it takes a village and I vow to be the mayor of that village, working cohesively with everyone. I never want one of my patients to feel lost in the system.
Personally, I think this is one of my more defining moments in healthcare but there are still many others over more recent years that have shaped me. Up until my senior year of college, I didn’t really understand the role mental health played in happiness and physical health. That all changed in literally a split second.
The tradition on Marathon day for lacrosse players was to go to practice bright and early and then head downtown to the finish line to cheer on our classmates. Tufts always had a marathon team and we usually knew one person who was running. Most of the time we waited at the finish line and some of us would jump the barrier to run with our classmates to the finish line. In those days, that was allowed and you wouldn’t get tackled by SWAT or Boston PD for jumping on the course. That also all changed in a split second.
Long story short, my teammates and I were about 10-20 feet from the second bomb. We heard the first one go off and knew something wasn’t right. We turned to run as the second bomb exploded-- vibrating through our bodies and slamming us to the ground. We scattered to safety and quite literally ran for our lives. If you want to hear more about the real, raw experience, you can read more here or here or here
I had never experienced such a thing before in my life and I cannot imagine feeling it again. The aftermath of this event sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, fear, insomnia and strength I didn’t know I had. At the time, I tried my best to power through all the feelings I had. The man hunt and lock down following the Boston marathon bombing furthered the fear and the strength. The defiance to be stronger than evil was deeply seeded inside me but the trauma was not processed well. I was never officially diagnosed but from experience, I believe I had PTSD.
I didn’t take care of myself well. I drank too much to hush the anxiety inside my head which in turn made me more anxious and created the worst hangover blues I have ever experienced. I went to the school mental health therapist once and didn’t feel like I got anything of it besides 3 ambiens to help me sleep. I had my first set of panic attacks and I had friends who lifted me up more than I could have asked for--even going as far to literally lay down with me while I fell asleep so I would feel safe. (I cannot express enough gratitude without starting to cry while I write this) The anxiety was real and it didn’t get much better. I couldn’t put into words how I was feeling and therefore did not get the help I needed. I dove into work and anytime a stressful situation would happen, my anxiety would rear it's’ head because I never fully dealt with my experience.
The next year was full of exciting opportunities and scary uncertainties. I took endless amount of pre-requisites for graduate school and worked as a lifeguard. As long as I stayed on top of schoolwork, I felt good. Change of plans: anxiety attack. That summer my Nanny fell and was sent to the hospital and I flat out convinced myself she would die before I could go see her. I was convinced that bad things would continue to help to my family and was so incredibly fearful of this.
I traveled to Ireland to work with my sister and I actually felt better that fall. Stepping outside my comfort zone and living in a new city helped me improve my self awareness and independence. Stressful situations were fun instead of anxiety inducing and each new situation challenged me to advocate for myself and push myself into new challenges without fear. I think the mixture of being in a new place and being there for (and with) my sister helped me use my strength and sense of adventure to be happy
Upon returning from Ireland, my future was entirely uncertain. I had applied to Physical Therapy schools and my fate was in the hands of admissions officers. I had no job and no idea where I would end up. Enter: anxiety attacks 2.0. I decided to move back to Boston and figure it out. I worked part time as a Physical Therapy aide and I looked for jobs as a personal trainer. I lived in a family friends home while I looked for apartments. The uncertainty of everything, the lack of money and lack of vision led to some of the worst anxiety attacks of my life. I finally decided to see a therapist weekly and really dive into what was going on. Therapy helped, having someone talk to help and movement helped. I slowly started to come to terms with my PTSD and anxiety and realize it was not something to be ashamed of.
It was then that I dove into my yoga practice and began to pay more attention to how I treated my body. By mindful movement and fueling myself properly, I started to get a handle of my life and my anxiety. This was my intro into the healthy lifestyle but not the end point. As a healthcare professional, I recognize that chronic illness and injury is not an end point, it is a journey. Sometimes there are multiple steps to your journey even if you don’t realize it right away. This is something that I want to make sure every knows. That each blip, each roadblock, each detour is just a greater part of your overall journey to your best health and your best life yet.
Let me tell you about roadblocks.
As I was finally figuring out how to handle my anxiety and feel in charge of my life, the universe sent me two roadblocks. My Nanny passed away and while I had feared this, I had come to terms that she was in a better place. Shortly after that, I found out that I was rejected from all 9 Physical Therapy schools I had applied to. Sadness and grieving turned into flat out devastation and uncertainty. These two events might not seem linked but they 1000% led me to where I am now.
I didn’t know where to go or what to do and felt angry and sad at the same time. I was deep in my yoga practice at a local studio and it was my saving grace. Deep into my soul searching, I saw they had a yoga teacher training coming up. I desperately wanted to do it but did not have the funds. My mother called one day and said Nanny had left her some money and she wanted to gift some to my sister and I. In my eyes, the signs were clear that Nanny was there guiding my journey. And so I enrolled in my journey to become a Yoga instructor.
It pushed and pulled me. I cried and grew. It truly brought me to where I am today and for that, I could not be more grateful.
While I knew for a while I wanted to be a Physical Therapist, I didn’t know what kind of Physical Therapist. Becoming a yoga instructor and learning SO much about myself, led me to learn more about mental health, breathwork, mindful movement and self care. It helped me create rituals to take care of myself and give me tools to better help my future patients. The anxiety that once floored me, fueled me to take better care of myself so I could in turn take better care of others.
The next year I reapplied to Physical Therapy school and finally got into school. I didn’t realize that I was a completely different person going into Physical Therapy school then when I started this journey. My health journey had taken me so far and helped me learn the things I needed to share with my patients…..
So there you have it, Part 1 of my health journey. How I came to Physical Therapy School, a changed person— for the better. I truly believe each and every situation has given me great wisdom to help me become a better healthcare professional. I believe I am more compassionate and understanding and less judgmental and harsh because of my experiences.
Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for Part 2