Age is just a number

I looked down at the bracelet placed on my wrist after the assistant asked me to recite my birthday at least five times. 11/29/1988. 30 years.

This was yesterday, November 30, the day after my 30th birthday. Before you lose all faith in this post, no, I’m not going to sit here and lament my age or entering a new decade of life. In fact, I have been ready and waiting to turn 30 for a few years now, but the fact that I have turned 30 is what brought me to write this post.

Yesterday I sat in a doctor’s office. It was new and clean. It had comfy chairs and super friendly office staff. It also had an interactive video game on the wall, butterflies on the ceiling, and that really old cool bead moving game we all remember from our childhood. Fresh into year 30, I found myself sitting in the Yale Pediatrics Orthopedic office.

This office, though new to me in location, really was not. My life is marked in my memory by characteristics of trips to my orthopedic doctor growing up:

  • The cast man, Tony, who always knew how to make me smile, even though I was so scared the cast cutter was going to slice my leg open.
  • How I thought it was so cool that they had a scale big enough that I could step on it still in my walker. (Clearly before I learned most people avoid those things like the plague.)
  • My amazing pediatric doctor, Dr. Brian Smith, who never made me feel like a broken kid, despite the multitude of bones he broke intentionally in my body to increase the quality of my life. A doctor who always took what I said, I what I wanted, into consideration above anyone else, even though I was “just a kid”.

I did not spend my whole life in hospitals, but I did visit them regularly, and we do ourselves great disservice if we don’t acknowledge how all parts of our life have shaped our life.

For the past three months, I have been working through some unnamed injury and pain. Actually, it’s something more like seven months, but you know–the first four you ignore and don’t mention to anyone don’t typically count. As I do with most aches and pains, I chalked it up to the gym thinking “okay, maybe that sled push with 85 lbs on it wasn’t the world’s greatest idea”, and rested knowing I’d be back to feeling good in a few days.

Except I did not. The pain continued. It worsened. In the quiet of my life behind closed doors, my daily functioning diminished so much that I began to not recognize myself. I still got up, got dressed, and went to work, but the pain was excruciating most days and I prayed with every step that my arms would be strong enough to hold me because my legs could not. There has been no going to the gym. There has been no doing much of anything. By the time the day was done at 4:30pm, I mentally and physically felt like a had run 12 marathons.

It took me two and a half months of waiting to see the doctor I met yesterday. A time filled with PT and pain management through Pop Tart consumption and tears or laughs (depending on the day) with good friends just to try and stay afloat.

After x-rays, and vitals, and barely avoiding the urge to play with the cool bead moving game, a doctor walked into the room. He was young–probably not much older than me–with his team of PT, OT, and my physiatrist trailing behind him. He shook my hand and said, “so I hear you’re like the hulk or something”. In one instant, my anxiety broke and the emotional wreckage of feeling unfixable for months started to fade.

He and his team stayed, talking and problem-solving for an hour. They answered all my insane, anxiety-ridden worst case scenario questions, making sure to make fun of me thoroughly while doing so. The doctor spoke in a way that made sure I understood every word, without undermining my intelligence and knowledge of my own body.

Though we might not yet have answers, we have a plan, multiple plans really with multiple steps, in case any which one path does not quite work the way they see it in their minds. My favorite part of said plan, of course, is being able to head back to the gym with zero restrictions. Well, except no added weight for squats or lunges, but I’ve never done that anyway. Everyone in the room was in agreement that any dynamic movement is better than no movement at all we long as it doesn’t cause pain. Better for my body, and definitely better for my spirit. This is something I have known and believed for 12 years, even when other health care professionals have tried to tell me otherwise.

But how does this all relate back to my being 30? You see, peppered throughout the diagnostic pieces of this appointment were side conversations. Real and raw and honest between a new doctor and a new patient.

Conversations about how I am the 15th patient he’s seen in six months with similar issues, not because I am breaking down or have done something wrong, but because I live, I work, and I use my body in all its strong and amazing glory–a type of body that has not been researched enough yet to understand the effects of the aging process.

Conversations about the downfall of a healthcare system that continues to believe that Cerebral Palsy is only a pediatric condition, that someone we children don’t grown up to become contributing members of a society with needs not unlike our peers without disabilities.

Conversations about women with disabilities in the healthcare system, and their lack of access to quality, comfortable feminine health practitioners who understand that their bodies are different and have the patience to work with them anyway.

Conversations about health, fitness, my service dog, and tattoo meanings; and why each of those things play a role in how and why I was in front of him asking for help to get back on my feet, literally.

All of these conversations were between a 30 year old patient and a doctor who typically treats patients with an average age of eight. All of these conversations were possible because a young doctor made a conscious choice not to just pick a field and cut to cure, but instead see a need and do what he can to try to fill it. One 30 year old patient in need at a time.

As I walked out of that doctor’s office yesterday, the day after my 30th birthday, still limping, but smiling and filled with hope, I understood fully why people say age is just a number.