Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hurts So Good

For the past two weeks, I’ve been subjected to physical therapy for injuries I received during my automobile accident that occurred December 26th. The majority of pain resided in my neck and back. During my first visit, the physical therapist, Ray, said that although I wasn’t experiencing severe pain at the time, I would eventually become aware of residual effects of the accident. Instead, he should’ve just said, “No pain? We can fix that.”

Ray is a funny, Italian New Yorker, who migrated south to Austin in the late 1970’s. Short, quick-witted, rather disheveled, with nails bitten down to the quick, I fully expect to see Ray on a late night Taxi sitcom re-run. He would fit right in as a quirky character.

His assistants, Dee and Veronica, are the Mistresses of Pain, doling out the exercises prescribed by Ray and watching with gleeful smirks as I contort my neck and shoulders into the most ridiculous positions. The top of my left shoulder did not hurt until after I began physical therapy. Now, every time I get into my Dodge Durango and buckle up, the shoulder strap of the seatbelt feels like it’s bruising my shoulder. Coincidence? I think not.

Little 4-foot, 10-inch Veronica, who looks like a high school freshman in her sweats, beams her perfectly white, young smile at me, assuring me I am doing a good job, as I complain after each exercise. I’m particularly suspect as she prefaces certain exercises by saying, “Now, you may think this exercise makes you look stupid, but it’s great for strengthening the neck muscles.” There’s certainly no room for vanity in the physical therapy room.

Today, Veronica showed me a new exercise - The Wall Angel. Even the name sounds stupid, doesn’t it? With my back flat against the wall, knees slightly bent and feet planted about a foot or less away from the wall, I’m supposed to bend my arms at 90-degree angles from my body. Then, keeping my back, shoulders, head, arms and backs of my hands against the wall, I raise both arms until my fingertips meet. The way Veronica did it, the exercise looked quite easy, if not silly. But, after 15 repetitions, I was huffing and puffing, certainly not thinking angelic thoughts. I think they should just rename the exercise, Wall Torture.

Today, Ray examined me after my PT workout with Veronica. He seemed pleased with the range of motion I had in my neck, as I looked over my right shoulder and then my left. But, when he told me to tilt my left ear towards my left shoulder, my head was noticeably restricted. “This side is much tighter.” I commented. Ray asked, “Why do you think that is?” Now, this seems like an incredibly stupid question to ask. I felt like saying, “Good grief! You assign me all these stupid-looking, painful exercises to do, and now you want me to tell you how to do your job, too?!” But, being a spectacularly beautiful day outside and feeling in particularly good spirits, I squelched the voice of my evil twin, and replied, “Gee, I guess this side [pointing to the right side of my neck] of my neck is tight.” Ray clicked his pen and wrote that down on my chart.

Dee, the third party of Pain Professionals, Inc., my pet name for the clinic, is really a sweetheart. I shouldn’t complain about her. Using essential oil-infused lotion, she massaged my neck and shoulders last week until I didn’t hurt so much from the exercise. She does a much better job than Ray, but I guess today she was tied up with another patient. Last week, I asked where Dee had learned her skills, and surprising to me, she answered that she had taken a course at Austin Community College.

Maybe I should be a physical therapist or a PT’s assistant! Out of work for 10 months, perhaps a career field change is in order. I am great at massage, and I have no doubt I can mete out painful exercises to patients with the best of them. What a dream job!

Whether I have my inspiration for a new career or not, I do hope to have a pain-free neck and back in the next 6 weeks. The anticipation of this goal keeps me motivated to continue doing the stupid-looking, tortuous exercises at Pain Professionals, Inc.

“Pain: an uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of others.” –Ambrose Bierce

“I don't accept the maxim 'there's no gain without pain', physical or emotional. I believe it is possible to develop and grow with joy rather than grief. However, when the pain comes my way, I try to get the most growth out of it.” –Alexa McLaughlin

Grow With Joy, Y’all!

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