Thursday, November 15, 2007

Necessary Therapies

Amazing things these bodies, human bodies, and what we put them through. If it’s not enough that we expect them to move, bend, twist, turn, stoop, jump, walk, and run for eighty odd years, well, we then subject them to all manner of recreational challenges.

It’s simply stunning to watch any example of contact sports and see the abuse of the body, let alone to see those bodies pick themselves up off the ground, court, or field ready for more abuse. Bodies smash into bodies at perilous angles; muscles and ligaments are strained to the limits, and bones bend like twigs and refuse to break.

Sometimes. This paean to our sturdy corpus has been brought on by my own introduction to its occasional frailty. Alas, an injury. Alas, some surgery. Hence, enter the physical therapist.

I had my first physical therapy routine recently. For my own ailment, things were quite encouraging, but looking around at my fellow sufferers I’m struck that I was even able to write the two paragraphs that begin these thoughts.

Tough as nails, Iron John, man of steel – maybe so, when it all works. But when it doesn’t, when it breaks we are frail indeed. We wince, we moan, occasionally we cry. Will and energy are the currency of the physical therapy clinic, yet incremental progress is its true cash value. The torn ligament, the broken bone, the ruptured cartilage, they take our toughness and turn it into feathers wrapped in wet Kleenex.

An older woman smiles in victory as she lifts a two pound weight over her head. A man with either a pre- or post-surgical broken arm chats quietly as a therapist exercises his arm in barely visible motions. All manner of rubbery, flexible, elastic toys are available for teasing near-infantile movements from bodily parts that want to say, I tried, but I’m done now, thank you.

What the physical therapist really offers, though – and for this there is no exercise – is hope. Following the injury, following the physicians/surgeons doing their jobs and getting all the right parts back where they belong, the patient is left to wonder: What now? Where is normalcy? I’m stiff, I’m sore, I hurt, I’m fixed but I can barely move – What’s next?

Time, of course, will fix many things, but time is such a slow worker the patient resorts to makeshift cures, often permanent: the slouch, the limp, the cane, the cranky attitude. The therapist, though, pushes all that aside and says I hold in my hands your normal life. If you’ll come to it, if you’ll work for it, you can have it back.

The emphasis, of course, is on “work for it.”

I see long walks again in my future. I don’t see a victory in the senior division of a marathon race. Then again, I never did.