I can’t manage my back problems by myself anymore. My physical therapist stated the obvious as we were going through a pattern of exercises designed to stretch out my hip flexors and prevent them from over-rotating, which is one way my body compensates for its limited motion between my shoulders and my hips.
“You’ve done a fabulous job of staying fit and flexible,” he said, as he pushed his fingers around my hip bone and held the muscle in place while I slid my leg slowly up and down the table.
I turned on my left side and relaxed my right shoulder so he could reach under my shoulder blade and pin down the muscle under my scapula. I raised my arm from the elbow up and down, slowly, as if it were a new part of my anatomy I was testing. I started sweating as the muscle throbbed through the rotation.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients in much more pain who’ve had considerably less surgery. You’ve got a lot going on in that back, with all that hardware and the muscles that haven’t moved on their own for years. I think you’d benefit from being stretched out this way several times a week,” he said, burrowing his fist deeper into my shoulder. “You’re contracted across your upper back, and by having someone help you lengthen the muscles several times a week you can counteract that effect.”
I was silent, remembering the last time I had to rely on someone to help me with physical therapy. Before my first spine surgery, my mom and I got up early every morning to do a series of exercises intended to stave off the need for surgery. My mom handled it perfectly. She’d wake me up and we’d head to the den, with my mom clapping and singing all the way, like the only thing she had to do or wanted to do all day long was hold my feet and arms in various awkward positions while I twisted and turned, trying to strengthen the muscles on either side of my stubborn spine.
I’ve known this time would come. For the past several months I’ve had to lie down each afternoon to rest my burning muscles. At night it’s difficult to sleep when the nerves in my arms and legs tingle and my fingers and toes get numb. And I know it could be worse. I remember thinking before that second surgery that I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 if I didn’t do something drastic. The surgery was drastic, certainly, but since my recovery I’ve been able to resume most of my activities and Jazzercise without falling on my face or crying in agony. I’m much better off physically than I have any right to be.
All the same, it was a humbling afternoon when Jon, Bill and I met at therapy so Bill could learn how to work my hips and upper back. Jon stretched my left hip flexor, then showed Bill how to do it. Bill’s hands felt familiar, of course, but less certain than Jon’s.
I had to close my eyes and concentrate on the muscles Bill was holding, telling him to pin deeper, or higher, and I reminded myself that while I felt helpless, he was feeling the pressure to get it right. He had on his “Bucy face,” his look of greatest concentration. I named this look after a favorite, challenging law professor of ours twenty years ago. He wore that face every minute of her class, as if he thought that relaxing his jaw and eyebrows would make every bit of criminal law he’d retained magically disappear.
We’re embarking on a new era, one in which I’ll have to depend on him to help me manage this body, with all its frailties and kinks. Our plan is to try the exercises at night, and to look around for a massage table so that we won’t have to get on the floor to work out. I have a hard time getting up and down from the floor, and it’s easier for the therapist (or husband) to perform the maneuvers in a standing position.
I’ve talked with the boys and told them my back just isn’t as strong as it used to be. I might lie down more often in the afternoons, or need a bit more help around the house, particularly with lifting laundry and groceries. I explained to them that Daddy and I would be working on my back so I could stay strong, and that if they wanted to watch or to learn how to help with the exercises, I’d love it. I grew teary when I talked to them. I’m used to being the savior, not the saved.
Finn was sympathetic, hugging me, telling me it would be fine, pointing out all the activities I could do. Drew listened and reminded me that he loves to chop ingredients for dinner as long as he has a good knife. Porter assured me he’d still snuggle with me every morning while we listen to NPR.
And so this Flashback Friday, I’m looking back at our family as it was , and how we are now. And I’m wondering how the future will be. But I suppose that’s true for all of us.
Family Portrait 2000
Me and the guys, 2009
Me and my new therapist
It’s your turn to join Flashback Friday. Directions are here.