Jerry Nelson: Physical therapy misery
Hello TheraBand, my old friend,
You’ve come to torment me again.
Anyone who has been afflicted by physical therapy is probably intimately acquainted with the TheraBand. It’s basically a huge chunk of elastic and not, as its name might imply, a therapeutic musical group.
I say “afflicted” because physical therapy is the only sector of our modern medical system that views inducing pain as one of its main goals.
We have a niece who’s a physical therapist. I once said to her, “You physical therapists just sit around and dream up new ways to torture your patients!”
“Yeah,” she replied blithely, “That’s pretty much all we do.”
My first experience with physical therapy took place more than 30 years ago. A close encounter with hydrogen sulfide in a manure pit landed me in the hospital. I spent more than a month abed, including three weeks in intensive care.
Lying in bed for a month has a way of causing bodily dissipation. Once my lungs had recovered sufficiently, I was wheeled down to physical therapy where my wobbly, atrophied legs had to relearn how to walk. I was also given a TheraBand and was instructed on how to use it to strengthen my arms and chest.
My wife said she knew that I was getting better when I attempted to use my TheraBand as a slingshot. It would have worked too, if my big toes had been a bit stronger.
My first experience with physical therapy included some occupational therapy. A chunk of plywood with a set of bolts sticking out of it was placed before me. My job was to find the correct sized nuts and thread them onto their matching bolts.
Happy to finally be doing something that related to the real world, I rapidly matched the nuts to their bolts. I also showered my therapist with valuable information. “This is a 3/8” bolt and its nut takes a 9/16” wrench,” I might say. “You can use this size bolt as a flywheel shear pin on a Case 200 baler.”
After breezing through my first nut-bolt challenge, the therapist set a similar chunk of plywood in front of me. But this time, the bolts and the nuts were metric.
“Get that away from me!” I exclaimed to the therapist. “That’s the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen!”
About ten years ago, my left shoulder began to act up. And by “act up” I mean “felt as though it had been hit by a sledgehammer whenever I extended my arm.”
I was issued a TheraBand and was given physical therapy. None of it helped, and I eventually underwent shoulder surgery.
My surgeon was highly skilled in the OR, but not so much when it came to postoperative debriefings. “I sort of cleaned things out,” he said to my wife and me after the operation.
It felt like he’d cleaned things out alright. It also felt as though he’d used the kind of drill bit that’s normally associated with oil exploration.
The surgery left two small scars, one at the front and one at the back of the shoulder. I would tell people, “The arrow went in here and came out there. I told my assistant to carve a groove in the shaft. Then she took some gunpowder and she…”
At that point, if the listener was of a certain age, he or she would exclaim, “Two Mules for Sister Sara!”
The surgery was a success. After an appropriate recovery period – and more torture from my physical therapist – my left shoulder was rendered pain-free and operating at 100% of its faceplate specifications.
All of which is why it was so troubling when my right shoulder began to act up recently. Just my luck! The extended warranty on that shoulder expired a few months ago.
So here we go again: to Jill the doctor, to Brenda in X-ray and, finally, to Chuck in physical therapy. I’ve been told that I have impingement. I don’t like that word; it sounds much too similar to “imprisonment.”
I was assigned a young physical therapist named Lucas. And by “young” I mean “I have socks older than he is.” I am not kidding.
But Lucas is perky and upbeat. He’s certain that with enough time and adequate amounts of torture, we can get my shoulder back to a pain-free state. He also gave me a new TheraBand to use at home.
I hope Lucas is right. Because I certainly don’t want to have another industrial drill bit mucking around in my shoulder and another set of scars.
Plus, summer is coming, and I think the TheraBand would make a fabulous water balloon slingshot.