You Clean Up Nice

In the physical therapy room, we look like a rag tag bunch. Four weeks in and none of us know the others by name, or even by injury. But we're there, at 7 or 8 a.m., with the sports talk blaring on the radio as we try to rebuild what is broken. 

There's the stocky businessman and his something -- his knees? He talks about the clients he needs to meet, and steps outside to take a call.

There's the worker who fell in the parking lot hole, doing all sorts of damage to something.

Each of us on a machine, building up the slightest strength, regaining the movement in muscles and joints. Things that should be easy that aren't, like sitting up on a big rubber ball or stretching a resistance band, elbows down. 

The details of this cast of characters are sketchy -- sometimes how it happened, and sometimes what. Except for the woman who talks about the Tai Chi injury and the bone chip. We hear all the details of that, about how her Tai Chi master says one can will one's muscles to behave. It's mind over matter. It's will.

She turns to the therapists and says, "What happened to her?" pointing to the thin, tall young woman who wears a neck brace and grimaces with the slightest motion, her father holding her as she shuffles across the floor.

"You have to ask her," says the therapist with the long blonde hair and sensible shoes. "We're not allowed to say." Three sets of 10. Hold for five seconds each. Two sets of 12. 

"Something is broken in each of us," I think, as I try to lean back over a chair, stretching my neck in a way that strains every muscle. "And none of the others knows just what that is." 

I think about pain more, now. I think about it when I walk my Mom into Panera after church and she has her cane and it's difficult for her to walk. There are good days and bad days, and the crowd doesn't move as they order their turkey clubs and French onion soup. I wonder if they know pain, or what it's like to love someone who is in it every day. Or to cry with rage at pain and its brutal unfairness. 

When I go to get the car, one nice woman goes out of her way to make sure mom is helped, and I am thankful for that. She might know pain, or maybe not. Maybe she just does the right thing.

As I've written before, pain is relative and pain is real. I was lucky to walk away.

I stand in the physical therapy office and pull on the rubber bands, foggy with the remnants of a migrane, anxious with the day ahead. What's ahead for the days of my comrades, this cast of characters that will rotate each day. 

I pull the bands in my gym clothes and my eyes water thinking about all the pain in this little room. When I duck into the bathroom, skipping the heat treatment to get to a meeting, I put on a bright pink dress. The Tai Chi lady says, "You clean up well."

So it seems.