Monday, November 15, 2010

The Blessings and Tortures of Physical Therapy

I didn't intend to hurt myself. I was just trying to help my son reposition in the hospital bed back in August. I was doing some personal hygiene care for him when I decided that he would be better off higher up in the bed. I lifted under his arms and gave a tug. It was then that he stayed in the same spot, but my right shoulder didn't.

I heard the pop and felt the heat, then the pain. I knew that I had done something terribly wrong. The shoulder continued to hurt for about a week, but with anti-inflammatory medication and some tender care, the arm started to feel better. I was sure that it was only a one time thing; it had obviously healed on its own.

The family took a vacation a few weeks later with many stops along the way; things had to go on and off the top of the van and in and out of the hatch in back. That constant lifting and hoisting took its toll. By the time we returned home, the shoulder was painful and difficult to move.

I truly believed that it would mend again as quickly as it did the first time. Weeks passed and the shoulder seemed to get worse, not better. Progressively, I was unable to lift or twist my arm without excruciating pain. This didn't seem to be as benign as the first injury.

The doctor assessed my arm, gave me two shots of cortizone in the joint and recommended physical therapy and an MRI. Hearing I needed physical therapy was distressing news for more than one reason. First of all, to the mother of six, physical therapy twice a week isn't easy to schedule especially when five of those six kids are in three different schools with carpools and bus schedules. But, truthfully, what I was dreading most was the therapy itself.

Physical therapy is downright torture. That is not to say that it is not useful and necessary -- it just hurts in the process of getting stronger and better. The ice packs for instance require snow gear to endure. I've never felt anything so excruciatingly cold in my life. Then, there's the manipulation of the injured body part by the therapist!

"Just tell me when we get to the point of pain," he'll say.

"How about you stop before I indicate we're at that point?" I suggest ruefully.

Somehow, that's not appropriate in therapy. Pain is an indicator of progress; if you do your exercises and are able to pass the point of pain from the last visit, you've made progress. But, I sure wish there was some other measurable indicator!

As much as physical therapy is not something I look forward to, I take from its process 4 useful spiritual and temporal reminders supported by Scripture:

1. It is important to take care of your body and keep it physically fit. Romans 12:1 says:
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

2. It is important to fill your body and soul with good and healthy things. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says:
...let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God...
3. Sometimes we must do things that hurt in order to make us better.  Romans 5: 3-5 says:

...affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint...
4. I need to offer physical therapy and the pain that comes from recovery for the salvation of souls, for the needs of my neighbor, for God. 1 Cor 10:31 says:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
 But, just in case my therapist is having just a little too much fun making me suffer (wink, wink), remember this: God's got a message for you, too! The Gospel of Matthew says:
...the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

I am so grateful for the good things that come from the all the work of physical therapy. It may be hard, as cold as the Arctic ice caps, or even as painful as medieval punishments. But, the rewards of the painful process are not only known in physical benefits; the pain can be offered for those who are suffering without hope, for the holy souls in purgatory or for those who have no access to such care.

God bless my physical therapist! His techniques may be painful, but he does an amazing job at restoring health and well-being to the temple of the Holy Spirit!


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