May is National Physiotherapy Month in Canada.
I’ve been absent and quiet here because I’ve been focused on an unavoidable life essential. Physical therapy.
After three months of physical therapy for pains related to the injuries I sustained nearly five years (ago after a woman in a car hit me while I was cycling), another recent phase of buffering stoicism is giving way to tentative relief and minor emotionalism. Tentative, minor, I am cautious. I am cautiously unbattening the hatches, because I think I can handle the measure and scope of my pain, and thoughts about that pain, now.
Much therapy and pain is for the second time in five years finally giving way to some gains and less pains, after too long of the one-step-forward, two-back syndrome. We’re far from done with the therapy. The therapy released a storm of related problems I almost believe I willed my body into squelching, or I adapted to a higher threshold for pain and exhausted those mental resources when the pain went on beyond a different threshold, probably physical, or who knows? All I know is that pain and physical therapy are expensive.
I expect there will be another such phase in my life. A fully torn PCL has a way of messing up the body’s biomechanical functioning and therefore demands expert care and attention, which is hard to find, but which is more common in the sports physical therapy field, a more expensive option, an unavoidable expense if I want to feel happy, healthy, productive, and independent. If I don’t want to freeze at the prospect of another step inciting debilitating pain, physical and psychological.
A t-shirt slogan recently caught my eye: Pain is weakness leaving the body. I think I frowned to read it, to see that we will tell ourselves anything to rationalize whatever we need to rationalize so to make ourselves feel better. I’m not a No Pain, No Gain believer. Complicated injuries need more than mental band-aids. They need lifestyle changes, attitude changes, provisional personal negotiating between an old uninjured self and a new reality that no medical professional is an authority on.
This last reality, this realizing just how little medical professionals know about what goes on in my body, how much they rely on statistics and observation and sub-optimal diagnostic tools to speculate a best guess, and then to find the patient doesn’t neatly fit into one of their artificial categories, that I and you and we are outliers, how this reality unfolds along with a personal search and rescue mission for relief is almost a tragi-comedy. Worse is that some will outright lie in an effort to decrease alarm, usually in the form of a lie of omission, a debatable judgment call in a fraught moment.
So, slogans and rationalizations, to compensate for all that we do not yet know. My least favourite is the platitude It Could Be Worse. This brief balm to the frustrated mind is unacceptable, because It Could Be Better. Really, I believe that. Striving for better is the entire point of physical therapy.
With each squat, step-up, stretch, I’m finding that settling is as equally unacceptable an option as striving for the impossible, that hard work doesn’t guarantee success, that there are no guarantees, there is just try. Try as best as the moment allows. And the moment can be long. Weeks and months long. But time allows for the revelation of some kind of truth about the matter at hand. Truth? I know, truth is as often a best guess, a conviction, a consensus as it is a personal belief based on a spiderweb of personal history. Pain and injury makes a person vulnerable; it can muddy all the senses. It’s a tough place to be, because it is a truth no one wants to experience.
The physical therapists and medical professionals I respected the most were the ones quick and willing to admit how much of the healing process is trial, error, and no guarantees. They had no final answers for me. The one I work with now I admire the most. He listens closely to my efforts to translate the confusing cues my body gave me, and he encourages me to carefully push forward, to work with what I’ve got, to make what I’ve got better than it is.
The past is past, and there is no recapturing injury-free days; there is no denial of the here and now; and I am finally at an honest cautious okay. I am working to invest in a better now and tomorrow.
I think I’ll end with that thought.