Those of us who suffer from any disease that affects our body physically – be it actual deformity or simply a loss of bone mass or strength – eventually face the question of whether or not to begin a course of physical therapy. Now, I’m sure most of you are saying “of course therapy, how can there be any question?” Well, there certainly is no question that the right kind of therapy will benefit your greatly, but you must be prepared to search out the therapy and therapist that is right for you. There is a whole section of physical therapy out there that has no experience in dealing with clinically-ill therapy patients. Sports heroes we are not.
I was blissfully unaware of this fact when I was young, and on top of that, back then, my parents were in charge. Since there was no internet when I was first diagnosed, we only had word of mouth and the Yellow Pages. (Remember that old book? It gave us phone numbers printed on paper. How kitsch is that?) So, my Mother set up an appointment.
Most times before physical therapy begins, the doctor will provide a prescription so that insurance will cover the costs. All it consists of is a prescription sheet with the words “p.t.” on it, though, so the actual content of the therapy is up to the individual therapist. This may seem trivial, but I am here to tell you that it is the most important fact you can take away from this article.
The day came and I set off to start my adventure in Physical Therapy. I was about twelve or thirteen years old at the time, so everything was both awesome and stupid to me at the same time. As we walked through the front office, the doorway in the back opened up to a full-featured gym that looked like it came right out of the Dallas Cowboys locker room. I was pretty excited, because if nothing else, I could tell people I went to the gym twice a week. This was well before the current gym-psycho craze began, mind you. I was introduced to my therapist, a girl in her mid-twenties who was good-looking, pleasant, and seemed fairly knowledgeable about Arthritis. I was psyched – I had hit the jackpot!
The first session was spent assessing my “range of motion,” a term that anyone who has been to therapy or seen a doctor for the first time is very familiar with. Basically, it is to determine the areas where you are lacking motion, and just how far they can push it. This is a very important thing to take note of, especially when pushing things too far can permanently damage joints, bones, and muscles. The session ended and I was ready for more!
As I was dropped off for the second session and went back into the gym area, I was greeted by George. Now, I want to try to explain here just what George looked like. If you took the quintessential 1980’s era tennis player, put him in an outfit that was two sizes too small, and then made sure he was wearing way too many sweatbands, then, you have a good idea of what George looked like. Immediately my anxiety level jumped up to about 1 million. George proceeded to tell me that my previous therapist – the good looking, knowledgeable, sweetheart woman – was no longer with that office, and he was taking over my “training.” Uh, oh, I thought, he called it “training.”
As I said earlier, there are two schools of Physical Therapy – therapy for people who suffer from physical ailments, and people who have injured themselves or want to train strength. Even though it was clearly stated in my chart that I was a member of the former group, George proceeded to take me through exercises and activities that were clearly designed for the latter group. You may be saying “well why didn’t you say something?” If you remember back to when you were twelve or thirteen years old, you will likely realize that any person who was a significant amount older than you was more or less an “adult,” and hard to challenge. At least, it was like that for me. Even though I was wincing in pain and coddling my joints every time an exercise ended, George did not seem to notice, or care.
As the hour session drew to a close, I was just waiting to run to my Mother and tell her that this is not for me, physical therapy was horrible! The last exercise of the day, though, was the one that I will never forget. At that time, my elbows were active with Arthritis. Because of this, they had a very limited range of motion, and George decided that it was time to stretch them straight. He took my arm, laid it on the side of a table, and proceeded to hang on my arm until the elbow was completely straightened. He was pressing down on my arm as if he was jacking up a car – and to this day, I have never been in that kind of excruciating pain.
People use the phrase “I saw stars” when describing great discomfort, and most times it is simply a cliché. Well, I saw stars. My vision turned red, then blue, then green, and pops and flashes of light burst before my eyes. I was in that much pain. This man who had my arm held hostage continued the assault for a good five or six minutes. Finally, another trainer came over and rescued me. I wanted to cry so badly, but I kept stoic until I got far enough away with my Mother, and then the dam burst. In the end, George had hurt me and put me off physical therapy for many years.
This is the worst of my experiences with p.t., but I assure you, it is not the only time things went awry. Physical therapists are notorious for claiming they understand medical, physical, ailments, when in their mind they are really saying to themselves “how different can it be?” The need to find a therapist that really, truly, understands R.A. and other related diseases is beyond measure. Fortunately, as of late, therapists can get specific certifications to work with Arthritis and other clinically ill patients. Also, I have recently gone back to therapy after many years, and by chance have found the best therapist I’ve ever known. The staff knows what they are doing, the office is close to my home, and the atmosphere makes you want to pop open a drink and hang out. Oh, and, I actually get results! Good therapists are out there, folks, so don’t give up, but make sure to be wary of any p.t. who claims to know about Arthritis, but then goes on to say “but you’re so young!” And if you see a multitude of sweatbands, get out, get out as fast as you can hobble!