by Dana Schuster, MS
For the past two months I have been recovering from bilateral knee replacement surgery. Yep, I did them both at once—a decision that has been described by some as “crazy” and others as “really smart.” In all honesty, I think both opinions have merit.
I know many friends and colleagues who have been thwarted by doctors in getting cleared for joint replacement surgery because they were fat. Outright denial of these procedures or “requirements” to lose significant poundage in order to be even considered, have kept them from being able to secure these treatments which just might change their lives for the better. I was very fortunate to have the first surgeon I consulted NOT respond in this restrictive manner, and when he told me to “lose as much weight as possible” in a pre-surgical consultation, my quick and definitive statement that “that’s not going to happen” was accepted by him, and weight was never mentioned again.
Although at first my post-surgery accomplishments seemed extremely encouraging and satisfying, I have to admit that the last couple of weeks have been much more of a struggle for me. I am usually pretty good about listening to my body and honoring what it tells me about movement and rest, without judgment. Yet I have recently been feeling very frustrated with the limitations I continue to encounter with my range-of-motion, mobility, sleep, and patience. My natural tendencies towards holding myself to very high expectations have not been sitting well with my actual daily or weekly progress.
In the midst of my self-directed chastisement that I was neither doing enough nor meeting the performance expectations of others, it occurred to me that I may not be quite as good at self-applying the HAES model as I am at encouraging it with others. There is an underlying level of compassion and a lack of judgment inherent in the HAES paradigm that I realized I just might not be practicing when dealing with my current physical challenges. So I decided to review the HAES principles and the core concepts behind them to see if they could help me get myself back on track. The primary ideas that jumped out at me in this process were:
- Individually appropriate
I believe the HAES approach is founded on a kind thoughtfulness and consideration that embodies the “Do No Harm” mantra. I realized that in my physical struggles I was somehow forgetting to start with the concept of my INDIVIDUAL needs and experiences and instead was looking far too much at what the outside “measurements” of my progress might be suggesting. How could I have let go of the knowledge that I can only do what I can do and accept that as being just right in the given moment? My levels of self-acceptance and body respect eluded me in the midst of my rehab process, perhaps in part because I am not adept at asking other people for help without feeling somehow less-than. My unaccustomed need for a pain medication that was beginning to muck with my mood might have also pushed me in this direction.
Without a doubt, the knowledge and experience of the healthcare professionals who are members of my rehab team have an important place in facilitating my recovery. My doctor knows how to watch for the healthy healing of an incision; the physician assistants have expertise in medications; and the physical therapists have skills to maximize the progression of mobility. I benefit from and am grateful for all of their input. But what I’d somehow forgotten in recent weeks was that I am the only one who actually inhabits this body and experiences the range of physical, mental, and emotional reactions to the activities these professionals prescribe. The value of trusting the multi-dimensional elements that comprise my overall sense of wellbeing had also somehow slipped away from me as I tried so hard to push my functionality forward.
Revisiting the HAES principles and thinking about the way in which they encourage positive consideration and acceptance of one’s own body knowledge and needs, has been just the right medicine for me. This process has allowed me to get past the heaviness of my self-judgment and frustration and move ahead in a more positive manner. By going ‘back home’ to my HAES beliefs, I feel as if I am once again centered. I have made a promise to myself that I will listen to and trust my own body experiences first and foremost, and let them be my primary guide, as I continue to go through the months of rehab that lie ahead.