What If It Works?

What If It Works?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

What If It Works?

“I don’t want to mess with physical therapy,” I said.

My neurosurgeon crossed his legs and folded his hands to listen. “Why not?”

I leaned against the exam table and shifted my weight. As I did, the paper table cover crinkled. I couldn’t sit down. The pain from a line-up of bulging and protruding disks was too great. “Doctor, I don’t have time. Therapy will take weeks and weeks, and may not even work. I have five children at home. I crawl from room to room, to wake them in the mornings.” I bit my lip to keep from crying. “I can’t care for my family from the floor. It’s that simple. I want to have surgery again. It’s faster.”

I wasn’t minimizing the significance of surgery. The risks. The recovery time. The pain. I’d gone that route before. But right now I needed to be moving forward. In the most soon-as-possible way. Five days a week, indefinitely, for therapy, didn’t seem to be the most expedient route. If only the doctor would understand that I’d lain on the bathroom floor that morning, trying to dry my toddler after he’d hurled himself in and out of the bathtub.

“Surgery is invasive and a last resort. I want you to try therapy first. I’ll have Sandy call the therapy center. We’ll get you scheduled.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” I asked. I imagined my family needing their mama. If it didn’t work, it would have been a waste of time. Time that I didn’t have. My family had needs that a pain-racked, nearly immobile mama couldn’t address.

My surgeon’s chair creaked as he leaned back and crossed his arms. “Well, what if it does?”

I was scheduled for my first therapy appointment the next morning. Lonny, my husband, took the day off from work to drive me. I couldn’t sit upright. I stretched across the middle seat of our Suburban, bobbing and rolling and wincing with each bump. He helped me from the truck and inched me through the heavy July air. By the time the cold blast of office air hit my face, I was angry. Red-hot pain from that disk shot down my leg. And I hated feeling helpless, wanting to sit down to wait but standing by the coat rack instead.

“Wish I could’ve been scheduled for surgery today,” I whispered into Lonny’s ear. “Last time, the day after surgery, the pain was gone. It was all uphill from there.”

Lonny smiled a sympathetic smile and rooted through his wallet for his insurance card.

I whispered a little louder. “I don’t want to mess with this.”

Just then a tall, well muscled man called my name. He stood in the doorway with a clipboard and a smile. “My name is Mark,” he said, as I inched toward him. He offered his strong, warm hand.

Mark led us to an exam room. For the longest time, he allowed me to talk. About my back. About the pain. About my need to care for my family and my desire to hold my boys on my lap and toss them Nerf balls and prepare their meals and turn down their beds. I shared about my surgical experience and recovery and the fresh, debilitating experience with pain. Then Mark did an exam and measured my mobility, which I later learned, was limited to an extreme.

“Before we work on a treatment plan,” Mark said, as I stood in the corner of the tiny room, “we need to get your back in alignment. We’ll start by having you lie prostrate.” Mark looked at my husband. “Lonny, I’ll show you how to lift her hips to straighten her out.”

I reluctantly eased myself to the table, and with the help of the two men, rolled to my tummy.

“Her back looks like an S,” Lonny said.

Mark didn’t say a word. He just showed Lonny how to gently lift my hips to align them with my shoulders. “This will take pressure off the disks,” he said. “You’ll need to be this way for twenty minutes every hour.”

He also shared that chairs were off-limits. I pictured my family around the table without me.

Hot tears slipped from my eyes. But they didn’t have far to fall. I was already face down.

The sun shone high and bright in the midday sky the next day. But I felt dark inside. I had an appointment with Mark, and I’d spent a great deal of time sprawled on the floor while my family bustled around me. “Mama.” Isaiah, my toddler, lifted his arms to me as I shuffled toward the door.

“Mama can’t lift you, Zay,” I said. “But I love you. So much.”

No. This prolonged treatment was not going to work.

“How is your pain today?” Mark asked, first thing. He sat across from me, clipboard in hand.

“It’s a smidgen better.”

“Good. Let’s measure your mobility.”

Mark and I worked through what would become the daily routine. Questions. Measurements. And eventually stretching and exercise. I was a passive participant. Mark moved my legs. One day he introduced an electrotherapy device. A great belt with straps the next. Each day I was given “homework.” Standing against the wall with a pillow wedged under my shoulder. Prostrate on the ground with my elbows propped. I scheduled my appointments a week at a time, and the days passed like molasses.

One afternoon the whole family came for my appointment. It was double-dip ice cream day at the local ice cream shop, and we wanted to treat the boys. My family waited in the reception area as I went to the exam room for an appointment with Mark.

I sat on the table and waited for his questions.

“How is the pain when you sit?” he asked.

Sit? I hadn’t even thought about it. But I’d walked into that room and had sat down! I hadn’t been at the table with my family for weeks, and there I was, sitting, without much pain.

“Not so bad,” I said.

“Very, very good,” Mark said.

I was smiling as he and I went through the normal routine of exercise. At the end of our session, he told me that I was ready to move to the exercise room for active therapy.

“I’m making progress,” I said, a feeling of hope taking root in my heart.

“You’re doing very, very well,” Mark said.

At the end of our session, I went to the reception area to meet my family. My youngest son took my hand. “Can you get some ice cream, too, Mama?”

I squeezed his palm against mine. “Yes! I think I can.”

My therapy sessions continued. Mark was knowledgeable, supportive, and strong. He’d gained my trust, and I felt safe in his care.

Six weeks after my therapy began, Mark gave me my “walking papers.” How appropriate, as I walked, with full mobility, out that office door. My family had managed just fine, and I was recovered and ready to resume my life full-force.

I often think back to my doctor’s response when I questioned therapy. “What if it doesn’t work?” I’d asked.

His answer was simple.

“Well, what if it does?”

~ Shawnelle Eliasen ~

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