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An ankle away: the urgent call to listen to our bodies

In 2017, amidst the routine of caregiving for my elderly father, I experienced a sudden and unexpected turn of events that brought me face to face with an undeniable truth: the importance of knowing and listening to our bodies. I slipped on a carpet and broke my ankle while pushing my father forward in his wheelchair. It was a moment that not only challenged my preconceptions but also illuminated a broader societal issue, particularly from the perspective of a Black woman navigating the complexities of the medical system.

Growing up in Monticello, NY, a predominantly Jewish community in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, I had witnessed my classmates’ encounters with broken bones from skiing accidents at the nearby ski resorts. I made a silent vow to spare myself from such mishaps, promising to safeguard my body against the pain and inconvenience of fractures. Little did I know that fate had its own plans, as a simple slip on a carpet would lead to a fractured ankle years later.

Initially resistant to acknowledge the severity of my injury, I resisted the notion of a broken bone despite the agonizing throbs that echoed through the night. It wasn’t until the relentless pain compelled me to seek medical attention that I faced the harsh reality revealed by the X-rays: a fractured fibula, a compromised ankle, and the looming prospect of surgery to insert pins and plates for stability.

In that pivotal moment, amidst the shock and devastation, a deep-seated intuition urged me to challenge the prescribed course of action. Drawing upon years of familiarity with my body’s signals and a profound sense of self-awareness, I dared to question the immediate recommendation for surgery. I knew my body, its resilience forged through years of athletic pursuits and global adventures, and I sensed that there must be an alternative path to healing.

This instinctual response, rooted in an intimate understanding of one’s body, highlights a critical aspect of the patient experience often overlooked in the medical discourse: the importance of self-advocacy and empowerment. As a Black woman navigating a health care system plagued by systemic disparities and cultural biases, this notion takes on added significance.

Historically, communities of color, particularly Black Americans, have faced profound challenges in accessing equitable health care and receiving accurate diagnoses and treatment. Deep-seated mistrust stemming from a legacy of medical exploitation and neglect further exacerbates these disparities, perpetuating a cycle of skepticism and apprehension.

In this context, the imperative to know and listen to our bodies becomes not only a matter of personal agency but also a means of challenging systemic inequities and asserting our right to dignified and respectful care. By fostering a culture of patient-centered health care that values individual experiences and perspectives, we can begin to bridge the gap between medical practitioners and the communities they serve.

My journey, marked by moments of doubt, resilience, and ultimately empowerment, serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of self-awareness and advocacy in the face of adversity. By embracing our innate ability to listen to our bodies and trust our instincts, we can navigate the complexities of health care with clarity and confidence, ensuring that our voices are heard and our needs are met.

As I reflect on my experience, I am reminded of the wisdom passed down through generations, particularly that of my late grandmother, a revered Native American healer in her community. Her teachings emphasized the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, urging us to honor the innate wisdom of our bodies and the healing potential within.

In a world marked by uncertainty and upheaval, let us heed the call to know and listen to our bodies, recognizing that our future health and well-being may be just an ankle away.

Dorinda White is a public health official.

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