I had an initial evaluation yesterday for an older lady with back pain.  She was very pleasant, extremely silly, and very honest (and by that I mean she told me she had been to PT before but that she just stopped going because she was a bad patient).  I could tell that she was going to be fun to work with…well, if she continued showing up for PT.

After getting everything I needed during my eval, we started doing exercises.  She started off with some exercises on her side and then we moved to some exercises on her back.  She started feeling dizzy pretty soon after rolling over.  She asked to sit up, took a few deep breaths, and with her eyes closed said, “I just don’t think I’m going to be able to do this.”  She was very concerned about her heart (has a-fib), but walks everyday, and everything we had done was not any more challenging than walking.  She attributed the dizziness to the a-fib.  She didn’t want to do anymore because she was afraid of pushing herself too hard and having a heart attack.

We talked a bit about how the activity was not any more strenuous than walking and that if she had the okay from her doctor to walk, what we were doing should be okay as well.  I asked if she had any issues with her inner ear and explained how her dizziness immediately followed her rolling from her side back onto her back.  She said that she does have inner ear issues and agreed that it made more sense that that was likely the reason for the dizziness.  To ease her mind, I made a call to her cardiologist to see if there were any other issues or restrictions I should be aware of.  There were not.

“You know, I’m always very worried about my heart.  I have panic attacks…” she said.  I wouldn’t wish panic attacks on anybody.  They are awful.  And if you’re familiar with my  other blog, The Life of a DPT Student, you know that I struggled with them at one point.   I had always told myself that if I could use my experiences with them to help at least one person, that horrible time in my life would be worth it.  And this moment was yet another one of those many moments that made me appreciative of the tough days I went through.

“Well, I know exactly how you feel” I said. “I’ve had panic attacks before.  They are really, really awful, aren’t they?!”

The patient perked up a little.  “Yea! They are!” she laughed, as if we were bonding over some shared hobby or favorite TV show. ” And you know what? People who haven’t had them before have absolutely no idea what they are like!!!”

I agreed with her.  And to be honest, having 3+ years between me and my last panic attack has almost made even me forget just how evil they are.

“The doctor gave me Xanax.  I had to take one because I was afraid I was going to have a panic attack while I was here” she said, sounding a little upset.  I was instantly taken back to the white coat ceremony for my program where I had to take a Xanax because I didn’t want to ruin such an exciting moment by panicking.

I told her that I had been given Xanax, too, and that I had to take it when I was afraid that I was going to have panic attacks. I told her that I knew what it was like to be afraid to go places for fear that a panic attack would strike.  I told her that I knew how bad the feeling was when you could feel one coming on and how I would cry on the phone to my mom before going into tests because I was afraid I would panic and have to leave.  She said that when she started feeling dizzy on the table, she was afraid one was going to come on.  I told her that she should never feel like she can’t speak up and say if she feels a panic attack coming on and that she will not at all be judged if she has to call it quits because of it.

And my patient left feeling pretty happy.  And I left feeling pretty fortunate to have been able to actually relate to her.  I know I wouldn’t have understood had I not had panic attacks before.  And while I wouldn’t say it is a time in my life I would want to relive, I can say that it’s a time in my life that has taught me so many valuable lessons and that has enabled me the opportunity to help people in ways I didn’t expect myself to do! The Life of a DPT Student would not have been created without them….this blog would not have been created without them…I wouldn’t have been able to relate to that patient without them.  And I have a feeling there are a lot more opportunities ahead of me that just wouldn’t be had I not had those “darker days”.

Oooh if my past self could just see the good things on the other side! 🙂