Scenes from Physical Therapy

I twisted my knee three months ago and finally went to my doctor when the pain suddenly got worse.  He diagnosed a minor tear in my meniscus and prescribed physical therapy.

My insurance approved a treatment center fifteen minutes from my home, and I went in for an evaluation.  Allison wrangled my knee from side to side, put pressure on the joint from various angles.  Then she asked me to lie down and lift my leg with my foot pointed outward at a 45 degree angle.  I could barely get my foot off the mat when she applied downward pressure.  She gave me an ultrasound treatment and a list of exercises to do at home.  And she signed me up for therapy sessions for the next week.

I had been rationing my walking for the last month.  The more I walked and stood the worse my leg felt, so I had become mostly sedentary.  My first session came as a rude shock, and even the warm up exercise, a 5 minute ride on the stationary bike, taxed my endurance.  Most of the exercises Charisse assigned seemed designed to make my leg feel worse:  deep knee bends, ankle twists, leg lifts with weights attached to my ankles.  I limped out after an hour of torture and wondered whether I’d made a mistake in coming there.

But my knee felt better the next day, and I got through teaching my class with a lot less pain.  I went to my second work out and had to sit for a few minutes before my appointment began.  Two thirds of the waiting area were taken up by a skyscraper man who weighed close to three hundred pounds.  He “manspreaded” as he slumped in his seat and listened to his headphones.  I squeezed into a seat beside him and stared at the magazine rack filled to overflowing with Vogue magazines.  I knew that there were no articles in there that could possibly interest me.  An older guy came in, took one look at the waiting area, and perched on a chair far away from the two of us.  Charisse called Skyscraper Man over for duty and asked him a few questions.  He told her that his back hurt after he played basketball the day before.  Charisse frowned and said, “I can’t fix you if you go playing basketball on me.”  Skyscraper whined, “I just shot around.”  Another patient told Robin, his therapist, about his crazy ex-wife.  The lady had tried to turn their daughter against him, and confiscated any gifts he gave to the child.  The ex had taken him to court several times to get the alimony raised, but still complained about money every time she spoke to him.  He told Robin, “Hey, I’m through with all that.”

The therapists began to relax around me during my third visit.  Anna told me about an upcoming trip to New York City with her boyfriend.  Robin blamed her father for giving her her 6’2″ stature, and laughed when I said that he hadn’t really meant to do that.  Charisse teased me about my “crazy double classes” and warned another client not to talk about his “lousy Gators” in her presence.  She added that her Seminoles weren’t about to face sanctions from the NCAA.

On the fourth day the therapists compared auto accident stories that their clients had reported.  One man had been struck in the jaw by a motorcyclist crashing through his windshield.  Robin said, “Here’s the best one I’ve heard.  This family was driving fifty, and they were hit from behind.  That car was going 90, and when that driver hit them he was drunk, high, and masturbating.”  “Multi-tasking,” I thought as I pumped the pedals on the stationary bike.  Charisse sighed and said, “It’s getting really weird out there.”

At the end of that session a white haired woman hobbled into the lobby.  She leaned on a cane as she stood at the reception counter, her face pinched tight with pain.  Charisse called out across the therapy room:  “Marie!  How you doin’ today?”  Marie muttered, “You don’t want to know.”  Charisse hollered, “But I do want to know!  I have to ask you that question so I know how to treat you.”  Marie considered for a few moments, and then hollered back, “Hooorrrible!”


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