This weekend, I had a startling moment of clarity while at the hospital.
“This is precisely why we need health coaches.”
My fiancee and I spent most of the weekend in a Brooklyn ER, then pre-op, then post-op, and things that I thought I knew on a certain level clicked on big time. First of all, most health professionals totally rock. I have incredible gratitude for they truly made the difference in a pretty scary experience, from the pediatric nurse in triage who secretly rushed us in based on a hunch despite an ER teeming with people and almost no order, for the quiet kindness of the young nurse who let me sneak a sandwich in the morning after surgery, or another offered me a chair to sleep in while we slept in post-op because there were no more beds anywhere else, to the doctor who gave Josh the REALLY good stuff when he started writhing in pain, and I could breathe again, seeing him slip out of the grip.
I had a new reverence for modern medicine as the doc said,
“You will be totally fine. This is routine. But in all honesty, 50 years ago, this would have killed you.”
But I also realized with startling clarity why it’s not always enough. I witnessed its shortcomings and my passion for coaching dropped in and intensified on a whole new level.
This weekend, my partner had an emergency appendectomy. We have all heard those stories. It’s not a huge deal, until it’s you or someone you love, until a stomach ache gets bad fast on a Saturday and all the ER’s are full. Until we got in just in time before his appendix ruptured.
It’s not a big deal surgery. It’s routine, but it was urgent, and the thought kept resonating in my head,
“What if we had waited? What if we hadn’t listened to our intuition and chalked it up to indigestion?”
Thankfully, we were incredibly lucky, treated spectacularly, and he is a champion. He is milking gelato and soup out of me and finally giving himself permission to relax.
But in that post-op room, I witnessed something pretty disturbing. As Josh ate the breakfast sandwich I snuck in (he hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours), I overheard a conversation from across the room. A woman in her early thirties had just been operated on because of trouble breathing, which seemed to be a complication of her diabetes. She was heavily sedated and wore an oxygen mask.
A dietitian came to visit her while she was still pretty out of it, and started giving her a lecture, rather forcefully, about carbohydrates. It seemed odd to me that she would be explaining grams and serving size and portion while this woman was almost completely out of it, which piqued my interest as I eaves-dropped.
She explained the in’s and out’s of calories and grams, carbs and sugars and gave her recommendations. She told her to take all the fat out of her food, to bake all her vegetables. There was a lot that I disagreed with nutritionally but that is not here no there. I was much more concerned with was what the patient was actually getting out of this interaction (it seemed very little as she was half-conscious), and if it was going to instigate any real change. I got the impression from the curt tone of the dietitian that she had encountered a lot of non-compliance in her day, and that her tactic to deal with this non-compliance was to shame her patient. My jaw started to clench and harden. Josh knew. He understands me. His sleepy eyes slid over as he said,
“Write a blog post about it.”
Please don’t get me wrong. Dietitians are not the problem. I love dietitians. They can be incredible and some of the my most capable and intelligent colleagues are
dietitians. They work really hard to do what they do, and I can’t imagine this woman’s specific job is easy, but I just got to thinking about real behavior change, how it really starts and how coaching is an integral supplement to the dietitian’s, the nurse’s or the doctor’s job.
I got to thinking about the clients who have come to me because inside, there is some voice saying, “I am ready for a change” but it is WAY too overwhelming, scary, and confusing, both on a logistical level, but more importantly, on an emotional one. Oftentimes, they already feel like failures or feel like there is something wrong that they haven’t been able to figure it all out. They make this mean something about them, that they are lazy, powerless, inept, incapable, or gluttons. This is often convenient, because then they are never responsible to anything more.
Then I thought about this woman’s life (knowing next to nothing about her). What the dietitian may have been seeing as non-compliance is what I could clearly see as resistance. Perhaps it’s possible this woman DID want more for herself but the overwhelming nature of CHANGE ALL AT ONCE was crippling, and bred paralyzing inaction. Maybe part of her WANTED to crash down because she thinks she deserves it or it will always be a struggle to stay on top of her health. Maybe she’s simply having trouble implementing the changes into her life sustainably, as she slips back into old habits again and again.
Have you ever had the experience of being shamed for your choices? If so, How does that make you FEEL?
I know it makes me feel pretty damn small. It feels humiliating. My cheeks flush. It makes me incredibly angry with myself. It makes me want to lash out at the shamer or at myself. It makes me want to rebel and say “screw you”! One thing it doesn’t do is inspire me. It doesn’t make me want more for myself.
I wanted to walk over there myself (would have been totally inappropriate), pull up a chair and start asking her some questions (when she regained consciousness).
I wanted to look into her eyes and ask,
What do you want for yourself?
How would your life change if you could follow through?
What is stopping you? What is slowing you down?
I wanted to start put the power back in her hands. We hear the phrase, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.” That is true, as health coaches, we can’t drag them out of the mud. What we CAN do is listen to them and stand beside them. We can offer our arm. We can show them how to take the first step, however small, while supporting their weight, that over time, leads to BIG transformation.
That is the role of the health coach: to support, to unlock, to educate, to hold the space for transformation, and to bridge the gap that seems un-jumpable for so many, and causes them to give up. We are co-journeymen.
Most of us know what we should be doing. It’s not rocket science. What we fail to take into account is that it’s not really about WHAT we think we should be doing, but rather WHY we’re not doing it. When we get down to it, it usually has to do with fear: fear of failure and what that will then mean about us, fear of looking foolish, fear of feeling vulnerable and breakable, fear that we are not
enough to make our visions a reality or just regular ole fear that we are not enough.
I kept thinking how a health coach would help this woman get out of her way and implement. Maybe she wouldn’t change but maybe, just maybe she would. Maybe she would start sitting in the driver’s seat of her life instead of a hospital bed in post-op with an oxygen mask, racking up thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.
If you are thinking, “I don’t need support. I’m just a screw-up. I know what I should be doing, I’m just not doing it,” it may be time to start considering what it is you want for yourself and the deeper resistance that is holding you back. We are beautiful, complicated and mysterious human beings, even to ourselves and maybe it’s time to locate the invisible walls that are keeping you stuck in your own proverbial hospital bed.
Have thoughts about this? Agree or disagree? Please share below! Get this convo started!
Rock On and Be Well,