Friday, December 06, 2019

Physical Therapy: A Memory

I had the misfortune of being in two car accidents this year in which I was rear-ended. Twice. One occurred in late July, the other in late September. The one in late September did the most physical harm to me even though it was at a lower speed, because I had my neck craned all the way to the side looking for oncoming traffic. My head was nowhere near the headrest, so I had the full effect of a whiplash-like movement.

Within a day I was hurting and going to the chiropractor. Getting adjusted two or three times/week wasn't making a difference. I'd feel fine after the appointment but by the next morning my neck was stiff and painful. One Saturday I was in so much pain that I moved the entire day like a mannequin — I could not turn my head in either direction at all, and instead of looking down at things I had to bend down to see things below me.

Through a series of appointments and visits with various health care professionals, I found myself in physical therapy (PT) at PDR Clinics. I've been going twice a week for four weeks now.

I learned that while I had been doing neck stretches correctly, I hadn't been holding them for long enough for my muscles to actually benefit. I'm strengthening my muscles using their MedX machines to isolate muscles. Those difficult-to-exercise neck muscles are actually getting the workout they need to get stronger.

I've heard and know of many people who've had to go to PT for various injuries, and I'm so grateful for this area of care. It's important to put the work in — when the therapist says they want you doing stretches every day, they mean it!

All of this reminded of a time when my dad was sick. He battled colon cancer for 7 years before it finally claimed his life. During much of that time he was able to live life normally, and other times he was in so much pain and could not control his bowels, which makes living life pretty much impossible.

My dad and stepmom Terry in happier days. 
One time he was hospitalized for three weeks after a bowel resection surgery. He did not recover well, anesthesia always threw him for a loop, literally. He was out of his mind delirious for nearly five days before they realized that the painkiller they were giving him was doing that to him. Once they got him on a different painkiller he got back in his right mind and the healing could continue.

Recovering from one of many surgeries, April 2015. Grandkids Sam and Presley, wife Terry by his side.
He was so eager to get home that he convinced the doctors to release him even though he had hardly any strength after being bedridden for three weeks. In order to get into the house he sat down on the front steps and slid his butt up each stair; he could not even lift his legs high enough to climb a single step. I don't remember if the hospital bed was in their house at that time or not, but if he was able to make it up the stairs to the bedroom he probably didn't come down for several days.

Weeks went by and my stepmom-angel took care of him. He was getting a little better every day but still was very weak. I am not sure how it came about, but a doctor or someone finally convinced him to meet with a physical therapist at their house to help him build his strength.

I talked to him the day of the therapist's first visit. Dad was angry. "That was the stupidest thing ever," he grumped to me over the phone. "She had me sit in a chair and straighten my leg, hold it for a few seconds and then put it back down. It didn't do a damn thing." My dad was a big man, accustomed to being strong and active. The fact that he had weakened to the point that straightening his leg was considered "exercise" frustrated him.

The next day I called again just to see how he was doing. He was even more frustrated and annoyed because he was sore from the "supposed exercises." I think he felt even more defeated at how weak he had become.

I don't know if he ever kept up with the therapist, she may have come a few more times. And knowing how frustrated he was by the experience, I don't think he kept up with the exercises they told him to do.

After that particular hospitalization, my dad slowed down. He was never able to get back to the level of activity he'd had before, and he was incredibly slow at walking. My sister and I had a hard time walking as slowly as he did. I would literally hover a single foot in the air to make my steps as slow as his. One time Dad and Terry were in Minnesota visiting us and the four of us were walking to a restaurant. Kristi and I absentmindedly started walking at our regular pace and within a few minutes found ourselves nearly half a block in front of Dad and Terry. God bless my stepmom, she assured my dad that she was feeling "tired" and needed extra time as well so that she could walk beside him. She did that everywhere they went.

I'm missing my dad this time of year. His birthday is on Christmas Eve, this whole experience of going to PT for my own injury is reminding me of his experience.