Tuesday, April 04, 2006

At therapy

today I was flat on my back on the table, a position I have to get into every time I go to therapy. My therapist stood next to the table, holding my arm, trying to get some life back into it, stretching it. She holds it at an angle I can't move it to yet. It is odd to have to trust another human being so completely. Should she let go of my arm, just for an instant, my muscles would not be able to hold it in the socket. My shoulder would pop right out, undoing everything I've been through in the past month, putting me in screaming agony. But she doesn't drop it. She holds my arm with her small hands, with a grip that I try to relax into. It's hard. I feel as though my grimaces and my pain frustrate her. She looks so sad sometimes, and becomes very quiet, and I don't know what to say to her. I can't not make my face contort when she has to move my arm in ways that are still excruciating. She says the tendons are holding it the ball in the socket, but that the muscles are shot to hell in there. It's still popping out. I don't want to frustrate her. I don't want to puzzle her. I don't want her to have to come to my next appointment with the surgeon and ask what on earth to do with me. I don't want this problem. I don't want it.

I had a book lying on the table next to me. I always bring a book to therapy, because after I run through the isometrics, once she has me on my back and my arm out in her sure grip, after that, I am hooked up to electrodes, draped with an ice pack, and run through with electricity for twenty minutes to stimulate the muscles and confuse the pain transmitters. I read while I am being ever so slightly electrocuted. I've gotten through "Back When We Were Grownups," by Anne Tyler, "Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography," some book set in post-WWII Spain I forget the name of, "Farm Fatale," etc. etc. etc. Today I had a copy of "The Neon Bible" by John Kennedy Toole, the man who wrote "A Confederacy of Dunces." She asked about the book, which is unusual, since she hasn't asked about any of the other books I've had. I explained about Toole's life, literary ambitions, and suicide in his early thirties. I felt her grip on my arm change. She asked me more questions about the book--about its tone, and more about Toole. I explained what I knew from reading about him and about "The Neon Bible," which he wrote when he was fifteen and which is blowing me away with its intuition and insights as I read it, and how different it is from "Confederacy," which is a funny book. She said, "Some people use humor like that, to cover crippling depression. Like a defense mechanism." Then she was silent for a moment and I felt the pain getting more intense as she torqued my arm. She had a strange look on her face, one I hadn't seen before. "My brother killed himself just before his fortieth birthday," she said. I ground my teeth together. My skin prickled. I couldn't move. I didn't know what to say. I said "I'm so sorry." I look up at her when I'm on the table when we have conversations. Sometimes she looks at me to speak to me, sometimes she gazes off into nowhere as we talk, with her gripping my arm and me lying prone. She had her face turned partly away from me. I couldn't tell if the pain I felt was coming out of her and radiating up my arm into me or if it was from my shoulder. I felt so bad. Her eyes were full. I thought she was going to cry. And then she abruptly changed the subject. To my arm. To why what she was trying wasn't working, hasn't been working for two weeks. I said that heat helped relax the back of my arm sometimes. She handed me my arm (and this happens: I can't move my right arm, and so to hold it in place while she retrieves something or goes to assist another therapist, she hands me my own arm so that I can hold it in whatever position she wants it held until she comes back) and went to get a heat wrap. I laid there feeling rotten for having felt sorry for myself at all lately. I wanted to suck all that sadness out of her and let it rot in my busted ball and socket. I started thinking about guilt and Catholicism and how Father Chris scared all the joy of Jesus out of me in my alter attendant days, the shame and wrongness I felt in that white robe, and why I turned into a hoarder of guilt. I wanted to eat the marrow of pain right out of her bones to make that look in her face go away. I loved her so much while I lay there holding my arm, waiting for the heat, waiting for her to come back. Because I know I can take it. I am not innocent. Innocent is the last thing I am. I wanted to take that off her and feel it myself the same way I want to be the puppy that gets left out in the cold, to be the starved pack animal, to be the abused kid. I can fucking take it. Somebody like her, somebody who was obviously innocent until, until, until, until whatever it was that happened to her to take it away--it's not right. Maybe I complain a lot, but I can take it. And I wanted to take it.

I've been thinking about it ever since she said those words. I don't know why she said them. What I know of her, she always stays on the surface when she talks. She is friendly, she is kind, she is a damn good therapist. She seems to genuinely care how your weekend was, how you're progressing, what you think. And yet there has always been this sort of space she won't cross into. It isn't like I go to physical therapy with all the weight of the world getting ready to bubble forth from my lips; it's just that this is something I've noticed. And I also noticed how her voice was shaking, and how she seemed to be concentrating really hard on explaining to me the importance of a new isometric exercise she showed me when she came back with the heat wrap. It wasn't lost on me that she didn't really make eye contact with me for the rest of the session, looking instead at my arm and the way my shoulder sits now (two inches lower than the left one). It wasn't lost on me that though she smiled and acted like her breezy self, something was profoundly different.

I don't know. The condition of being human, it's so extraordinary. It's so full. I don't know what I mean when I say I want to chew it up and swallow it, but there it is.


At April 05, 2006 1:21 AM, Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Maybe you should cajole her a bit to talk...it seems like she needs a therapy herself.

BTW, what's this about Father Chris and you as an altar boy? I just hope it's not what I'm thinking.

At April 05, 2006 2:27 AM, Blogger Fitèna said...

Elemmacitur is on to something there. Talking to you might be the beginning of a therapy for her, though she might not know it. You'd think with all the discoveries we make everyday we'd be able to have a clue as to our own comportmentalism.... The human being... you said it, we're extraordinarilly complicated.


At April 06, 2006 3:02 PM, Blogger Sangroncito said...

Whoa...that would be difficult to deal with....as someone who's own brother took his own life (at 24) I can't imagine myself saying that to someone in a situation like that, especially in a clinical or work setting....I feel for her...but perhaps she needs some therapy.

At April 07, 2006 7:17 PM, Blogger Mary said...

This was absolutely beautiful, J. I return the "wish I could favorite it, like on flickr" compliment completely. What a moment.

I think it was Plato who said "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. "

And of course you are kind and tuned into others. That's how you are. But it is a different thing all together to want from the very core of you to take another person's pain like that. It is a spiritual connection, for sure. (Have you read C.S. Lewis' 'The Four Loves'?...) I'm sure she was grateful for the time with you, however difficult it really was for her.

An extraordinary and full condition, being human. Indeed.
Thanks for sharing.

At April 10, 2006 2:39 PM, Blogger sidhe said...

well, now I'm releasing a little pent-up pain myself, some tears that needed to be shed. Her brother was on her mind, and whatever Guide she may have prompted her to trust you because you would honour her pain. Maybe she feels the same way about her clients' physical pain - sometimes it helps just to have someone know, you know?

At April 17, 2006 7:50 PM, Blogger cmhl said...

wow--- that was an incredibly powerful moment.


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