Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Retirement Pains - Dem Bones

For the past two weeks I’ve been undergoing physical therapy for severe pain in my back and arm. This is my first experience with PT.  The focal point of the pain seemed to be a spot just to the left of my right shoulder blade. It radiated through my armpit and down my arm to my wrist.

I thought all the lifting and carrying done as part of prepping the house for market is what caused the pain. Since my neck also bothered me part of the time, I assumed my condition was complicated by how much time I’ve been spending on the computer. An added factor is that the store where I usually get my 3.25 magnifier glasses has lately stocked only half-glasses. Those require me to tilt my neck back when I look at the screen.

My physical therapist believes that my neck is the primary source of the problem. She’s convinced that a disk is involved, but confident we can work out the kinks without my needing surgery. She is therefore spending a good part of the PT time working on my neck.

This naturally puts me in mind of that old song “Dem Bones,” (or whatever the title is.) You know, the song that goes: “The head bone’s connected to the neck bone, the neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone,” and so on. What I keep hearing is “The neck bone’s connected to the wrist bone.”

My home PT is comprised of a number of exercises that involve repetitive stretching or scrunching.  The PT at their location employs a variety of devices.  One is an oversized tootsie roll-like thingy that I put under my back to help stretch things out as I lie on the floor. Then there are long strips of tubing that look like shredded balloons. They’re attached to the wall and you pull on them.

This week my therapist proclaimed that I’ve made excellent progress in the side-to-side mobility of my neck, but that the vertical stretching needs more work. To help with this, she puts me in a pneumatic traction device that pulls on my neck to elongate it and reduce the pressure on the problem disk.

She doesn’t realize that anything remotely resembling a posture issue is a lost cause with me. My freshman year in college, we were required to take posture pictures. Clad in our underwear, we stood on the marked spot while the phys ed instructor snapped our best attempt at good posture. The photo was developed with a white line up the middle, showing where our spine should be.

My spine meandered to and fro from that line with what can only be called willful abandon.  I was classified as having “Backward C-curve Posture,” also known as a sway back, and was assigned remedial posture sessions. Oh, the shame of it!

Back then, I had long hair that I often wore in a knot on top of my head. In an attempt to get me to stand correctly, the phys ed instructor would pull on my top knot. Up I would go, but as soon as she let go, my spine settled back into its familiar backward C. In theory, if you didn’t pass your posture picture, you couldn’t graduate.

I need to provide some context here. I was a freshman well before Title 9, and there weren’t many opportunities for women to engage in sports in college. This was just as well, because most of my peers saw phys ed as punishment. It was required only during one’s first year and the bloomers we had to wear were… well, bloomers.

Unlike most of my classmates, I was happy to sign up for sports like sailing (a club activity.) I tried to get fencing going, at which I had excelled in high school, but that was fruitless. I participated in an archery contest one weekend as a favor. There was one student who had the skill to win an individual prize, but they were short a warm body to field a team. Since I’d done archery in high school, I gave up my Saturday to enable the team to compete.

All of this served me well when the results of my final posture picture came in.  Even though my spine continued to play hard to get with the white line, I was stamped “passed.” They told me they knew I wasn’t doing this on purpose, that they knew I didn’t “have attitude” about phys ed like certain of my classmates.

I wonder what they would think if they could see me in my traction collar, or rolling around on the log. They’d probably think they should have pulled harder and longer on my top knot.

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