Pain is Inevitable. Suffering is Optional.

Photo by Boemski
For the past few months I've been going to physiotherapy twice a week, with exceedingly bad grace. Back in the spring, my husband was run off his feet between work and baseball, so I did all the backyard clean-up and gardening myself. My left arm was sore afterwards, but I assumed it was just normal-exercise-sore, like after weight-lifting, and waited for it to get better. It didn't. Every time I lifted something, even a glass of water or a book, with my left hand, burning needles shot down my left forearm. I waited until the kids went back to school and booked an appointment. While I was there, I figured I'd also get my physiotherapist to have a look at my right shoulder, which I hurt while working retail in Toronto many, many years ago when we were too poor and carless to bother with any medical appointment that wasn't an emergency.

Yes, please ask me how badass I felt sitting there explaining my two injuries as "over-exuberant gardening" and "old bookstore injury". I thought about making something up, but I didn't manage to put the finishing touches on my Merchant Marines story before my first appointment.

Photo by Tangled Frog
It's a drag. It takes four times as long as a chiropractor appointment, and I already have trouble fitting those in. I love my physiotherapist, but the technician she had when I went for my knee is on maternity leave, so she has a new one, who I don't quite love. She's young, and Eastern European, and has some very strong and, to me, quite objectionable views on feminism (she thinks women shouldn't chew gum or wear pants, or be stronger than men in front of men), and animal and insect rights (she thinks you should let animals and insects take over your house, because they were their first) and whether it's permissible to shake someone's can of Coke without their knowledge when you object to the drinking of Coke on the grounds that it is 'poisoning yourself' (she thinks it is). I think it would be a waste of time to get into a debate with her about any of these issues, but the ten minutes while she's applying ultrasound therapy to my brachialis go very, very slowly. Then there's the fact that the deep massage to break up inflammation actually makes both arms hurt more coming out than they did going in. In theory, I'm all for short-term pain for long-term gain. In practice, it kind of bites.

So I was there on Tuesday. It was crowded. I was sitting with ice strapped around my left bicep and heat laid over my right shoulder, reading my physio book of the moment, which means whatever small, light book I can hold in one hand and I leave it in my purse to read at physio over successive appointments, so on top of everything else, the tech keeps saying "wow, you're a really slow reader".

I was startled from my reading by a gruff, old man's voice booming "This must be a miserable place to work!" Someone asked him why he would say that, and he bellowed "No one's smiling!"

My first thought (after 'what's my dad doing at physio?) was "Dude, why would anyone be smiling? This is the opposite of fun."

Everyone had been startled from their reveries, and I looked around. Across the aisle from me was an extremely fit-looking woman with a perfectly cut bob, lying on her stomach with suction cups on her back. Beside me was a teen-ager in booty shorts (said without disapproval - if I looked like that in booty shorts I would be sitting here typing this wearing booty shorts) with acupuncture needles in her lower back, texting on her phone. From behind a curtain, I could see a strong-looking physio guy with a shaved head massaging someone's foot with absolute concentration. And I thought, maybe I shouldn't complain about taking two hours out of my week to be touched by kind and capable hands. Maybe I should try to see the ultrasound tech's passion and conviction instead of her youthful wrongheadedness (although let's be clear, if she tries to shake my Diet Pepsi I'm taking the bitch down). Suddenly the whole thing seemed like a sweet, tender tableau of human frailty and connection. I've always loved the quote that says that when all is said and done, we're all just walking each other home, and it's not the worst thing if some of us are limping and other are offering a supportive arm. Here we all were, still breathing, trying to feel better, headed in the right direction.
Photo by エン バルドマン

And at that moment, everyone was smiling.


StephLove said…
I hope you and everyone else in the room is feeling better soon. We spend a lot of time in that endeavor, as a species.
Nicole said…
Allison, I love this. This is one of my favourite things you've written, and I have a lot of favourites (the swimming chaperone...)

I love that your injuries are bookstore and garden related. Last year when I hurt my back everyone was like "Was it yoga?" and I was all, "No, I was shovelling snow and hit a crack in the sidewalk".

The technician sounds just awesome. JUST AWESOME. Actually, she reminds me of that horrible woman I used to have to see at karate. JUST STOP TALKING PLEASE.

Do you think someone really would shake someone else's can of Coke? Dude, can't you just post an infographic on facebook?
Julie Leclair said…
what a lovely moment in time. I enjoyed my physio when I got there. it was the getting there that was the pain in the arse. are you getting the TINS electric shock stuff? loved that!

hope the physio will bring you out of your pain and into your ... what is the opposite of pain? unpain?
Lynn said…
Ugh, I feel your pain - physio is a drag and I have to admit, I was woefully undercommitted the two times I had to go and never did any of my exercises. Do they actually know what the problem is? Is it like an acute injury like a pulled muscle or something more sinister? Just so I can be extra careful next time I am gardening or shelving books :).

Never heard of the genie book - will put it on my list.
cynthia said…
I will not tell you about getting my feet frozen and then having shock wave therapy that never worked. It was fun to try and walk around after they were frozen because I had to use the bathroom.
Pam said…
Too tired to comment in any useful way, yet I type. You rock. You will feel better. I love the way your mind works and how you write about the great, bad, ugly and everything with your awesome words.
PS I would totally believe you if you said you were injured in a bar fight . You are super badass like that! That garden didn't stand a chance.
Patti said…
I really enjoyed this post. I feel like my body is held together with pins and duct tape. If we could collect points for physio, so many of us could afford that long-sought-after Italy vacation.

I read Facebook posts of friends doing high end triathlons and ironman, and I think, "WTF?" I'd like to just be able to pick stuff up off the floor without throwing my back out.

I think a huge part of life is seeing where we're really at and being compassionate to ourselves. This beautiful and funny post really brought that home for me. xo

Ms. G said…
I can commiserate with you. My back and shoulders and knee for Pete's sake are my mortal enemies.
I actually crave the pain from treatment because I know at some point it will help. As for the tech, Holy Life Police. I might wing a can of coke at her head.. end up throwing my shoulder back out ; ) Feel better!!

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