Tuesday, December 30, 2003

In Which I Take My First Baby Steps Into Uncharted Territory

Night is falling and the calm, mild weather of yesterday is turning. I've made coffee, put on a second pair of socks, and turned up the thermostat. The old radiator's beginning to whistle, a pleasant cozy sound.

The weather began to turn before my eyes as I sat in a plexiglass bus stop windbreak that was not living up to its name, that, in fact, was serving as a respectable wind tunnel. I hunkered down in the least turbulent spot. The wind roared, and the sky filled with bruise-colored clouds. I realized that Albert, the neck brace I'm in the process of shucking, actually does serviceable double duty as a neck warmer.

I'd just been to my first physical therapy appointment at the branch of my HMO in the next town over. It's on a major road leading from the western 'burbs into Boston, fortuantely on a direct bus route from the corner of my street. It's surrounded by malls of the most obnoxious sort and scads of car dealerships. The area takes its name and flavor from an old army munitions plant whose buildings, rehabbed, remain. With their blocks-long facade of tall windows and brick, they are far more architecturally pleasing than the malls that have sprung up around them. Despite the decorative cannons and the militaristic connotations.

I'm not a very physical person. I tend to live a few inches above and/or behind my body. Like a shadow, or a cartoon thought balloon. In school, gym was always a painful, shameful ordeal in every possible sense. One might say, delicately, that I have had "issues" in the realms of body image, eating, sexuality, that usual thorny nexus of carnality. Well, who hasn't, but let's just say you won't find me down at the local health club breaking a sweat on an "elliptical trainer" (disclaimer: I'm not even sure what that is -- it just sounds intense) or doing any "ab" related activities.

The walks I began to take by the river, last August just before my accident, were a begrudging realization that, being a 51 year old with the bone density of a 80 year old, I'd better do all I can -- including weight bearing exercise -- to try to improve matters.

So when I took "Albert" off yesterday for the first sanctioned hour and gingerly moved my neck around it was a rude shock. I do indeed have a body. With a neck. A neck that doesn't work very well right now. A neck that is not just a silent conduit between torso and head. A neck that is calling itself into question. Hello. Hell - oo !!! Here I am ! It's not just Albert that's the issue, it's -- gasp -- my body. Eek. Now what ?

Physical therapy is what. So, off I went. I got scrutinzed, palpated, draped in ice and instructed. (What the HELL are these big lumps at the base of my friggin' trapezius ?? Knots ??? Say WHAT ???)

And got three sheets of exercises: Isometrics. Posture. Range of motion. Plus a bunch more appointments.

Thus therapized, I went into the rapidly darkening day. As I shivered in the bus shelter, two elderly nuns cheerfully took their place beside me. They'd been shopping. At the mall. (Nuns ? At the MALL ? Shouldn't they be in the oratory reciting the divine office ? What world do I live in ?) They were deferential toward my neck brace; I was deferential toward their, well, nun-ness and their age, and ceded them the eye-of-the-storm spot.

Once home, since I had 30 minutes remaining of today's allotted two hours out-of-Albert, I tried out the exercises.

One might think 5 five second reps of anything would be easy.

One would be wrong.

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