When Ann gets an elevated blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, she lowers it by thirty points or so by singing a song. Most any happy number will work, but she favors Sunny Side of the Street and I’ve Never Been in Love Before.
On a good day, long distance runners enjoy what they call “light heart, light feet.”
To the same point, anyone who has ever made love, or shed tears at a performance of a Bach cantata, or gotten a stomachache while preparing a tax return knows that body and mind are one.
This is on my mind because I’m breaking in a new physical therapist who is going to help me walk again after a recurrence of back trouble. He holds a doctoral degree from a prestigious institution, and from the start, he impressed me as knowing all about muscles and nerves, how they connect, and which exercises might improve their interaction. But by the time we had finished the first session, I was fearful that he was going at the job of fixing me the way a mechanic does a car tune-up. He didn’t ask any questions about how my lameness came about. He didn’t ask anything that would set me apart from anyone else who had limped in He had directions from my doctor at Hospital for Special Surgery, but as I read them, they were just a to-do list. Was I to be an object? Was he unaware of the body/mind connection?
He did ask what my goal for therapy was. I’d been thinking about that on the way over. I gave it to him straight. “My short-term goal is to stop sitting in dog piss. I’m in so much pain on the two-block walk from my apartment, even using my walker, I had to take a rest twice, and the only places I could find to sit were stained with dog piss.”
“Long term “ – I figured he would scoff – “I want to get fit enough to do some more hiking in England and Scotland like I have in the past.” He didn’t scoff; he didn’t respond at all – not to either of my answers – and that bothered me. Where was “Sure, we can get you out of the dog piss”? Where was “Unless you develop some new problem, hiking just depends on how hard you work to get ready and how demanding the trails are”? He said nothing, though, just pecked away at his laptop. It was beginning to feel like a blind date gone bad.
At our second session, my suspicion about the guy’s shortcomings proved ill founded.
I was trying to walk heel to toe with light weights on my ankles carefully placing heel first. It was meant to build leg strength and balance. I could not do it. Not even one step. And everyone in the place saw my pathetic weakness. It was like one of those classic nightmares some people have where they are naked in public. I wanted to yell, “Hey, you should have seen me when I was young.” I was embarrassed, really embarrassed. If I live a while longer, the time will come when I am a doddering, hesitant old man. But not yet, please.
I told him I was ashamed and that I was beginning to feel hopeless. I’d been fighting pain and debility off and on for the past two years and here I was again unable to walk. That’s when everything about the physical therapy effort changed.
He kept a strong grip on the back of my shirt to keep me from falling, and he who had been uncommunicative at our first session started talking. He assured me that being discouraged was part of the process. He told me he had been through rehab himself. He was a pitcher on a Division I college baseball team, when he developed arm trouble. He had spent months in physical therapy, felt all the things I was feeling, and finally was able to pitch again. The experience led him to become a therapist. “Stay with it, Paul. We’ll start with baby steps. This will work. Where you are now is not permanent.”
I stopped whining and resumed trying to put one foot in front of the other.
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