physiotherapy. noun. from the Mongolian phiskhan meaning ‘to inflict’ and the German therkstadt meaning ‘intense pain’. The poor, unsuspecting sap went to physiotherapy and left a whimpering, blubbery mess.
It’s The Back Pain That’s Causing My Poor Posture
Yes, that poor sap was me! Among the many chronic ailments slowly destroying my once formidable temple of a body is a most unpleasant back pain. It began 3 years ago, just out of the blue. Another ConocoPhillips curse in my opinion, but I have no scientific support for such an assertion. All I can confirm is that it strikes only when I sit in an upright position; driving, eating, working. As a result, I am forced to slouch and lay around quite regularly and travel has become something I dread. I attempted to remedy this problem a couple years ago but no luck. Then the sarcoidosis flare up hit me and I was in no condition to attempt further treatment. Having a fixed back didn’t seem necessary if I was going to be six feet under in a box. Besides, I’d be lying down as I rotted away and that’s a position in which my back is pain free.
Now with my sarcoidosis stabilized and seemingly retreating (for now) I once again started to focus my attention on my back. Okay, to be honest, I didn’t really focus on it myself. I’d long become so pissed off with it and the lack of relief, that I’d just bitterly accepted the pain as yet another medical issue with no resolution. Lucky for me I have ‘loving’ family members, cousins actually, one specifically, who figured I should spend my hard earned savings fixing my back. “At all costs” I think was one of his more blunt statements. No doubt this was a somewhat selfish display of tough love driven by a desire to have me visit him and his family who live a great distance from me. Unfortunately the poor lad thinks my back pain, which I use as reason number one for why I can’t visit, is an actual excuse. The reality is my back pain is just a far nicer way to get out visiting him than telling the truth. HA! Take that! That’ll teach you to torment me in my own home!
All kidding aside, it does make travel very painful. Anything over 30 minutes in a car and I’m in pain. So I took my cousin’s prodding to heart and decided to get back on the hunt for help in fixing my back. My first line of attack was more physiotherapy. This time I asked for recommendations from a friend/co-worker of my wife whose wife use to ski competitively. Anyone who hurtles themselves down icy mountains strapped to two thin planks of waxed wood, in my estimation, is likely to know names and numbers for several skilled physiotherapists. I received two names and decided I’d try them both; more heads better than one head.
Needles and Other Therapeutic Unpleasantness
The first applied a combination of massage and “needling”. I’d done this previously and it didn’t work then but I was willing to try again. Besides, unlike the first attempt where half a dozen needles were poked into my back muscles, wiggled around, and then removed, this new therapist seemed a far more adept sadist. She plunged dozens of needles up both sides of my spine and into my neck and left me lying there for 20 minutes! Oh what a masochistic treat that was. Even the smallest move, a slight rub of my nose to alleviate a small itch, would tense a neck muscle and send the associated nerves around the implanted needle into rage. When I was finally finished and the needles were removed I was thrilled to find the pain was gone; the pain from all those bloody needles. My original back pain remained but seemed far less worth complaining about. I’m afraid if I go back I may fall in love with my therapist and start defending her needling therapy; Stockholm Syndrome is not just for kidnap victims!
The second therapist was located in another city, about a two hour drive from our home. Not the most convenient location, particularly if all I would receive is further needling. In our correspondence he seemed quite confident that he could help and that the treatments I’d received until now were inappropriate. That peaked my interest so I booked an appointment to coincide with a visit to my aunt and uncle’s who live in the area.
Brad Pitt and Cheez Whiz
Ladies, I have got to say, you would love this guy. Even if you are perfectly healthy, I recommend you fake something just to go see him. He is so perty; got a real Brad Pitt thing going on! I’m sure half his physiotherapy is nothing more than endorphins flooding your body upon first seeing him. I, of course, had to take my shirt off for examination and that was most embarrassing. I’m not sure, but I think he could tell my nipples were tingling. But let not good looks and sweet-talking demeanour fool you into thinking my treatment would be pleasant!
This fellow’s diagnosis was that calcium had built up in my muscles/tendons and had essentially clogged them and stuck them together with gunk. Sounded simple enough to me and with all the Cheez Whiz I hate from ages 3 through 24, it would not surprise me if there was gunk caked about my entire body. Whether it is calcium or some as yet unknown polymer remains to be seen. The funny thing with this calcium build up is that it cannot be removed by exercise or stretching or any other traditional or not-so-traditional therapy (i.e. needling). It just needs to be broken up and the fibres re-mobilized.
What happened next was nothing short of torture. I have no doubt that this guy should be charged in World Court for crimes against the Geneva Convention. There was no evil pain device or bright lights or psychological ramblings, just one man and his hands and twenty minutes of him grinding my tendons and muscles against my shoulder blade. You cannot appreciate how painful that is especially since the muscles he’s tenderizing are already inflamed due to the pain that sent me to him in the first place! I thought I was going to cry at the least or scream at the worst. He worked a spot on my back into a pulp and then did some more work on my neck.
When he finally, mercifully finished he told me that I might notice some swelling where he was working. Really? Ya think? Cripes, afterward when I drove back to my aunt and uncle’s place I was looking out the window of the driver’s door because the right side of my back was so swollen I couldn’t sit straight in the car seat. My torso was triangular! I was longing for needling using 4” ardox nails rather than acupuncture needles. He figures one more appointment should do it. Do what? Cause me to willingly spray iodine in my eyes? Make me put a 30 foot statue of Pierre Trudeau in my front yard with his sandaled foot on Peter Lougheed’s back? Encourage me to enter an Iranian prison with a giant star of David drawn on my bare chest singing ‘America the Beautiful’? Sadly, I don’t think this treatment fixed anything. Hard to tell yet…waiting for the swelling to go down.
[This was edited April 2014 from its original first published as part of my Christmas 2009 letter.]