My physical therapy sessions always start the same way. While my therapist leads me back to the elliptical, he asks “So, how’s it going?” For the first few sessions, I assumed he was just saying hello, and would follow with something like “What’s up?” Normal people would have realized right away that he literally meant “How’s it going?” as in, “How’s your injury?” but it took me a solid week of furrowed brows and awkward silences before I caught on.
So now I say “Well… it’s not any worse. But it’s really not improving.” I don’t sugar coat it and say it very matter-of-factly, like I’m reporting the weather. It never occurred to me until last week that he might take it personally. After all, this is his job. I think what he’s been hearing is, “You’re a failure. How do you sleep at night?”
My therapist is not a failure, and he knows it. He runs 16:00 5Ks and completes 2:15 Olympic triathlons (is that fast? It sounds fast). He’s got a 5 o’clock shadow at 7:00 in the morning and looks like he’s carved out of granite. And here I am, a recreational runner with wonky hamstrings telling him what he can’t do. I’m convinced that the fact that I was completely oblivious to this insult is the only reason I’m still alive.
So, the program changed last week. This particular session started with my therapist’s thumb and my IT band, right down by my knee – the exact place it hurt the most. He dug in quickly and ruthlessly, and immediately found a stubborn knot. He pressed harder and I almost threw up. I tried to remain still and be cool, but squirmed like I was caught in a bear trap. He dug deeper.
By the time he’d finished, there were pools of sweat under my legs and I may have been crying a little. Thankfully, my face was so covered in perspiration that my therapist couldn’t see the tears. I collapsed on the table and started to stretch while he walked across the room. A few moments later, I glanced over and saw him drag an old, battered wooden crate out from under a rack of dumbbells.
The box was splintered and worn, and the sound it made scraping along the floor left no question as to its heft. The instant it was clear of the rack of weights, he crouched over it and began to root around inside. My heart sank a little as I heard dull clanks and heavy thuds coming from across the room. “My god,” I thought, “what is in that box??” I heard metal clank against metal. Everything about it sounded old and rusty, like he might pull out shackles or an implement of medieval torture. He looked up, caught my eye and signaled for me to come over.
When I got over and peeked inside, I saw solid steel bars, weights and some funny metal shapes. My therapist was holding a baseball, field hockey ball and a section of iron pipe. “This is it,” I thought. “He’s going to pummel the bejesus out of me, fold my broken body into that box and slide it back under the weights.” I must have winced, because he looked confused.
The balls and pipe were for my hamstrings. He told me to try them out and see what worked for me, so I rolled around in agony for a bit on the floor. My homework was to “really dig in” and work out the knots, both in my hamstrings and my IT band.
When I got home, I assembled what I think is a pretty good collection.
We were all out of rusty pipes.
Since that appointment, I’ve spent at least 40 minutes a day balancing and squirming on this stuff while I watch the History Channel. That little smiley massager, which I use to dig into my IT band, is the worst. The “best” part is I can bring the baseball and massager to work, so I can do homework on company time!
Here they are sitting on my desk. Yes, that is a Mark McGwire collectible baseball from Chex cereals.
The problem with doing this stuff at work is that you have to be in pain to do it right, and when you’re in pain it’s kind of tough to really focus on anything else. It’s easy enough to follow Pawn Stars or American Pickers while you’re sitting on a softball; it’s a little harder to participate in a conference call or finish up that spreadsheet while you sink a spherical maple foot into the side of your leg. I’ve noticed that my eyes glaze over and my mouth opens a little when I find a good spot. Other people have noticed, too.
Last week when I was sure nobody would come looking for me, I put the baseball on my chair, had a seat and started wiggling around until I found a knot. It took my breath away and all of a sudden, all external stimuli became muted and dull. It was like my soul retreated deep into my body and I could only see the outside world through a pinhole, like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
The arms on my office chair prevent a passer-by from seeing the baseball. If someone were to walk up, he would simply assume that I was very intently focused on whatever I was working on. My son sometimes makes a similar face on the toilet. I have no idea how long my co-worker was standing next to my desk before I noticed him, and I can only imagine what I must have looked like, staring wide-eyed with a zombie-like fixation at a totally blank spreadsheet.
Had I planned ahead, or prepared for this contingency, I would not have done this. But when I saw him, I shifted quickly off the baseball, reached under my leg and pulled it out. No problem, just working the kinks out of my hamstring. What he saw, however, was his co-worker suddenly sit a few inches lower in his seat after retrieving a Mark McGwire baseball from under his butt. I looked up at his dazed face and meekly stared right back at him. What could I possibly say? He’s not a runner and I’m a lunatic.
“So, how’s it going?” I asked.