Pain the Neck

July 21, 2006 at 11:39 am (Uncategorized)

I feel a little silly complaining about the lingering aftermath of Our Really Bad Car Accident when the world seems to be going to Hell in a Handbasket, what with two wars in the middle east, Somalia continuing its disintegration, trains getting blown up in India. Death, destruction, refugees, mayhem. And then there’s my arm and my neck. But since the Golden Rule of Writing (why I’m feeling compelled to capitalize so unnecessarily is beyond me) is to write what you know, I will stick to muscle tears and scar tissue and steer clear of the rest.

Let me begin by saying I am very lucky not to have incurred more serious issues like a broken neck or a crushed head, and I am even luckier that Andrew emerged from the smashed car with nary a scratch on him. I know my mother remains in a lot of pain, but things could have been a lot worse for her too.

Recognizing that I have much to be thankful for has never stopped me from bitching about how bad things are, of course. I learned last week that I didn’t just have a Big Ass Bruise on my right arm, but had actually torn the triceps muscle off the bone in one of the three places it attaches. No wonder my arm was hurting so goddamn much and it was impossible for me to lift anything. There’s nothing to be done except work on the swelling and wait for the thing to heal. Surgically reattaching the muscle causes more problems than it alleviates, and I’ll get back full use eventually.

Then there’s the whiplash in my neck, which is keeping me up at night, giving me headaches, making me cranky, and problematizing sitting in front of the computer and working, as well as driving. This too will just take time to heal. I can’t start strengthening the muscles yet, since they are still inflamed. The doctor said that both injuries will take longer than normal to heal because of my prednisone and my underlying immune system. problems. So I’m icing both body parts, gently stretching them, and trying to be patient, which is never my strong suit.

I am also going to physical therapy three times a week with St. Anna of the Hands. (I don’t believe that’s her official title, but you get the idea.) St. Anna is from Sweden, although she has been in the U.S. long enough that she has lost most of her accent. I think it’s only because I lived in Norway when I was a kid that I am attuned to the peculiar Scandinavian rounding of vowels in the background of her words. She also has what I would characterize as a Scandinavian sensibility, which is at once dour and kind. (I mean, she hearkens from a place that zealously redistributes everyone’s income to a point of equality found nowhere else in the world. There’s a lot of warmth in that, but also a lot of diligence and abstemiousness. ) St. Anna doesn’t give me much sympathy in a gushy American way – she doesn’t do the whole “poor you” routine – but she is incredibly steadfast in her efforts to make my neck and arm feel better.

St. Anna should take out an insurance policy on her hands. They have a way of finding the rips in muscle fibers, the knots of scar tissue, the achiest parts of my neck and arms, and working on the area with the perfect amount of pressure. The lumps loosen, the aches diminish, my headache recedes. She told me that in physical therapy school, one instructor told her that a good therapist should be able to tell the date off of a coin buried in a pocket by touch alone. After having St. Anna’s hands on me, I’m pretty sure she could even tell where the thing was minted.

One time while I was laying on the table, we started talking about how Americans always want a quick fix for difficult problems. You know, if we want to lose weight, we assume we can do it really fast while eating nothing but bacon and steaks. God forbid we simply ingest fewer calories than we expend and take the long, slow path. In the same vein, when we get sick, some of us turn to faith healers and quacks. She told me about this boy in Minnesota who is getting a reputation for healing people. It’s not a religious thing, although there’s plenty of that going around too. No, this kid rearranges the energy around a person, or some such thing, and heals terminal cancer patients and the chronically ill.

“I don’t know what to think about things like that,” I told St. Anna. “Hearing this stuff makes me question my rationalist worldview, and I don’t like it.” St. Anna agreed with me and then said, “I believe in the healing power of human touch and human kindness.”

Human touch and human kindness. I believe in those things too. Who knows if some people can call down Jesus or throw up force fields around people to heal? I don’t think we’ll ever be able to understand why some people get second chances and others don’t. Since I’m one of the sick right now, I tend towards grouchy skepticism. But human touch and human kindness are things I can get my brain (and my arms) around. For some reason, even though my neck is throbbing and the world is blowing up around us, I find it comforting to know that St. Anna can diminish my pain with her hands alone. I want to take my kindness and my love and launch it out into the world, too. I’m not sure how I can do this for the people in Lebanon and Iraq, Israel and the U.S. But I can start small and try to be sure to reach out to the people around me. As a wise person once said, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting a great battle.”

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