I entered the physical therapist’s office with bright optimism. The receptionist greeted me with a warm smile.
I had broken my ankle two months earlier and had hobbled in a walking cast for a month. I had imagined that once the walking cast came off, I would be as good as new. I envisioned the pain-free possibilities…dancing, hopping, jumping, even skipping. Perhaps I’d sign up for a 30k marathon if I so desired. But my hopes sunk when my foot continued to hurt after the cast came off. My podiatrist suggested physical therapy.
Pain, to me, sometimes feels like looking through a window at a peaceful world beyond where personal physical discomfort doesn’t exist. (I took this picture at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon.)
The receptionist in the physical therapist’s office handed me a stack of paperwork the size of Texas, which is quite a large state so you know I had an enormous amount of forms to fill out. The forms delved into my ancestry. Did my great, great grandfather ever suffer health issues? Which ones? In addition to inquiring about my family’s medical history, the forms asked every question you could ever think of. Except what flavor of ice cream I prefer. That’s about the only question it didn’t ask. I like Ben and Jerry’s Cherries Garcia, by the way.
“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll
I felt out of breath lugging the gigantic ream of completed paperwork back to the receptionist. She then asked for my i.d., fingerprinted me and took my mug shot. I was surprised when she didn’t hand me an orange jumpsuit or conduct the obligatory strip search. Maybe that came later. The receptionist, Andrea (I read her name tag), escorted me to a computer and instructed me to fill out more forms on the computer. Hadn’t I just filled out paper forms? Now I had to fill out computer forms? The computer asked the same questions as the paper forms. Maybe the computer forms served as a backup if the paper forms flew out the door during a windy gust. When I finished, Andrea asked me to go back to the lobby and wait. Medical professionals love to make their patients/clients wait because by the time they finally call you to the exam room you’re so thrilled to be chosen you feel special you were called at all.
At last, an assistant called my name. “You called my name? Not that silver-haired guy over there reading the Time magazine? You want me? Me? Oh, I’m so honored.”
She showed me to an exam room and more waiting, of course. By now I’m really feeling special.
The physical therapist entered the exam room after allowing me to sit alone in the room for about the amount of time it would take to memorize the U. S. Constitution. I wish I had brought a copy with me. She didn’t introduce herself but said hello and seated herself on the little rolling chair all medical professionals plop down on. I’ve often thought it unfair they get the fun chair with wheels.
“Let’s set up a schedule for you,” said Ms. P. Therapist as she flipped open her laptop.
I explained that I wanted exercises to do at home and my visit would be one-time only.
She gazed at me a long time as if wondering if I’m worth her time on a one-time basis. I now understand that physical therapists attend a torture training camp prior to opening their business. They don’t like the idea of all that training on how to afflict torment used for one-time only sessions.
Ms. P. T. said she needed to evaluate me. She barked orders like an army sergeant at boot camp. “Stand up. Stand on one foot. Balance. I’m timing you. Now the other foot. Socks on. Socks off. Walk, walk more, don’t stop walking. Again. Walk. Get on the table. Get off the table. Stand by the door. Balance on the left foot, now the right. Back on the table.” She then clamped her fist on my foot and squeezed with the strength of a Sumo mud wrestler. “Does this hurt?” she asked. I screeched, “Yessss, yeeee-owwww.”
She had me do exercises to strengthen muscles. “Don’t stop until I tell you to,” she said. I continued with the exercises. The toe flexor exercise required the stretchy band and numerous repetitions. I continued and continued. I wondered when she planned to tell me to stop. As I continued on with the toe flexor exercise, the assistant entered and changed the calendar to the next month. As the new month dawned, Ms. P. T. said, “Stop!”
On to the treadmill. “Walk, walk, walk,” said Ms. P. T. as she punched the controls and turned up the speed. She observed me with a glimmer in her eyes.
At the end of my session, Ms. P. T. asked me if I had any questions. “No,” I said, gasping. Even if I had questions I wouldn’t have wanted to wait around to hear the answer. “You’ll be sore for a few days,” she said. (What? I came to her office so I would stop being sore.) She explained, “As we get older, everything begins to collapse. I recommend strength training for you. Take a yoga class. Do everything you can to strengthen your muscles. If you get up from a chair, don’t push off with your hands. Use your legs. Remember, when you don’t use your muscles, it’s like Kryptonite.”
It occurred to me that dark clouds do have silver linings. For I realized that if I hadn’t broken my ankle, I wouldn’t have learned about my need for strength training. Or yoga.
I look for the silver lining.
But painful events often offer something good when we look for it. How often have I heard someone who was diagnosed with cancer or heart trouble say it turned out to be a blessing in their life because they learned how to take better care of themselves and discovered how much they are loved? I have a friend who had surgery, which couldn’t have been pleasant. While in the hospital she began receiving caring text messages from a man at her church. Since she is single and the man at her church also single, the caring messages blossomed into a relationship. Now the two have plans to be married. Maybe they would have eventually found each other without my friend having surgery, but it was an event that drew the two of them together.
With my foot in constant pain, I’ve given thought to the blessings of adversity. I’ve given more thought to my steps, which I once took for granted. But now with pain in every step, I use better judgment in stepping forward with a purpose. It reminds me that humans often seek God when suffering, even those who don’t believe. Pain often drives us to surrender when we wouldn’t otherwise. That’s the moment when grace embraces us.
Ms. P. T. handed me a list of exercises. “Do these every other day,” she said. Then, before I stood, she pointed to my legs.”Kryptonite!” she called out in the same manner you might warn someone that you notice a ticking time-bomb under the chair.
I made sure to use my legs when I stood.