By Alan Resnick
After 46 sessions I have my final physical therapy appointment on Friday. Depending on how one looks at things, I’m either graduating after more than three months because my rehabilitation is nearly complete, or I’m being kicked out because I’m bumping up against the maximum number of sessions that insurance will cover. This last appointment is both a cause for celebration and a source of dread.
I do know that I’m on the road to recovery from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in my right shoulder. The swelling in my shoulder, the stiffness, the pain, the clicking noises, and the lack of mobility all are just about gone. And my flexibility, range of motion, and strength are all increasing.
They should be! I’ve been exercising three times a day for 16 weeks. I’ve bent down at the waist and circled my arm in a sweeping circular clockwise motion approximately 18,350 times, or enough to mix every can of primer, paint, and stain in every Home Depot in the tri-county area. I’ve done about 12,250 wall push-ups (not that I’ve been counting). And I have pedaled on a hand bicycle approximately 217 miles, or far enough for a round trip visit from my home in suburban Detroit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It may take up to another couple of months until the shoulder is back to normal, so, I will continue my home exercise regimen.
That’s the good news. My apprehension about my upcoming final session is twofold. First, as I entered this week’s appointments into my calendar, I realized that my PT visits have provided me an anchor for knowing which day of the week it is. I‘ve found over the last year that, when there is nothing on my calendar, days tend to blur into each other. For the last four months, I’ve known that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, are PT days. I’m going to be losing that source of structure after this week.
But what really left me shaken was when I reviewed my calendar since I started physical therapy back in December. These are all the face-to-face appointments listed on my calendar over this time period: 46 physical therapy appointments, an annual physical, two dentist appointments, a follow-up appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, two walks with friends, and two 45-minutes visits to my office. This is supposed to be the calendar of somebody’s father or grandfather, not mine.
Clearly, my PT sessions have also been my dominant source human interaction outside of my wife, and I will be losing this social network. That’s not to imply that I have been completely housebound since early December. I’ve had no problem going grocery shopping or picking up carry out meals throughout the pandemic. But the obligatory generic greeting provided by a store employee doesn’t really qualify as social interaction to me, nor does the transactional conversation with a cashier or clerk.
Similarly, I did not list the assorted Zoom educational sessions on my calendar or the FaceTime coffee or dinner dates with family or friends. While I can see people’s faces on my tablet, it just simply isn’t the same as them being physically present.
I’m realizing that I’m going to miss so many of the little interpersonal experiences that happen during my appointments beyond the physical therapy. I’m going to miss having my temperature taken and answering health screening questions before being let into the PT exercise room. I know the questions so well that I can point out when one has been overlooked.
I’m going to miss having Caroline, the office administrator, tell me to: “Drive home safely.” I only live about two miles from the facility, but the kind words are very much appreciated nonetheless.
I’m going to miss interacting with each physical therapy assistant when they hook me up to the electrical stimulation machine. Each has their own distinct personality and way of doing things. Sio is pleasant, quiet, and efficient. He doesn’t disclose much about himself unless he is specifically asked. Since he is studying to be a physical therapist, I’ll ask him about how classes are going and what’s been most challenging about remote learning. This gets him talking and will typically prompt him to inquire about my progress or background. Sio goes through the arm of my tee shirt to attach each of the four electrode pads.
Gwendoline is the most senior of the three assistants, having been with the firm for almost 17 years. She is also the most difficult to decipher. If Gwendoline simply says: “Good morning” after I greet her when she enters my room, I’ve learned it’s just best to be quiet and let her get me hooked up to the e-stim machine. But if she starts talking about the weather or her car problems, it’s a signal to engage in conversation. Gwendoline is also the only therapist who lifts up my tee shirt from the back to station some of the electrode pads.
Mick is the most outgoing and boisterous of the assistants. He is also a student; he attends two different community colleges, one to complete a program and the second to start a new program. Mick asks a lot of questions and provides a lot of information about himself, his girlfriend, his love of tennis, and his favorite foods. He consistently asks about my weekend plans if he’s working with me on Fridays, and my plans invariably are less ambitious than his. And, if he’s working the following Monday, Mick will ask about my weekend and share his with me.
Mick is the least adept at affixing the electrode pads. He attaches two by going up through the arm hole in my tee shirt, and the other two by stretching the neck of my shirt to reach down my back. He also hasn’t mastered how to remove the pads from the backing sheet on which they are attached without them dropping to the floor, so I function as his assistant by holding onto the sheet as he removes each electrode. We then repeat the process as he removes each pad.
Sanjay is both the owner of the facility and my physical therapist. This if the fourth time I’ve worked with him, and I trust him implicitly. Sanjay listens to my frustrations and provides ongoing emotional support and positive feedback. He bounces up and down on his toes while he manipulates my arm as his form of exercise. And I look forward to our conversations during each session, whether they are about the pandemic, politics, photography, our daughters, or our mutual friends.
So, I’m looking forward to Friday with very mixed emotions. Ouch, I think I just tweaked something in my back.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.