The first time I walked into physical therapy, I dragged myself through the door with a murderous rage. I had carpal tunnel and tendinitis in both of my wrists and was in tremendous pain. I recently had a baby and embarked on a new career as a freelance writer. Due to my diagnosis, my doctor told me to lay off both. No carrying my little boy and no writing until I got better. I was devastated. I had left my previous job to be the primary caretaker of my son, and I had found an intellectual outlet that kept me busy and satisfied. Now, I had lost my two greatest passions, and it hurt more than the pain in my hands.
My physical therapist talked to me with caution. I had no doubt that she had experienced anger in her patients before. Yet, she was kind and calm. She slowly gave me exercises to do, and massaged my tendons until I moaned in ecstasy. As she opened up my tight wrists, she also opened me up. I started to spill my heart out to her each week at our sessions. Before long, she knew all about my family, my educational background, my career, my hopes and my dreams.
When she gave me different repetitious motions to do, she drifted to other patients and listened to their aches. I watched her massage them and open them up too. I was by far the youngest patient in the room by 30+ years. There were older men and women who were defeated and bitter. And then there were those who tried to smile, make jokes, and even brag about their grandchildren. There was a man whose hands resembled pincers in an arcade game—always attempting to pick something up but never quite catching anything in their grip.
We all had one thing in common: Our hands were sub-par. We were frustrated with our bodies because they failed to do basic things. For me, it was washing my hair, shaving my legs, holding my baby, and writing.
As I began to see slow improvement, my rage simmered into optimistic annoyance. I attempted to mimic the other patients whom I admired. I smiled more, I made jokes, I bragged about my family. I tried to proactively feel grateful each day, not just when the mood struck.
But I learned the most from the wrist guru herself. My physical therapist was a good listener. She knew when to insert herself and when to stay quiet. She validated my feelings, and maintained a positive outlook when I couldn’t. She kept my plight in perspective, but never made me feel petty.
Over a two-month period, I lost the ability to use my hands, care for my son, and write. But I gained a new outlook. Once I recovered my physical strength, I was able to take care of my son in a more attuned way. I was able to listen to my friends with an increased sensitivity. And I loved my husband more deeply—not only because he had spent the past few weeks washing my hair and shaving my legs—but because I saw everything in my life with fresh eyes.
The next time everything seems to go to hell, I want to remember the wrist guru who healed my tendons and massaged my body, heart and soul, to feeling more solid than I ever was before.