‘This is going to hurt’12/2/2020
“Joe, this is going to hurt.”
No kidding. I lie on my back trying to visualize a white sand beach with crystal blue water and a cabana worker offering an ice-cold beverage in an oversized glass.
Instead, my go-to visualization usually involves buying a footlong hotdog with extra mustard from the grill-guy outside Hy Vee. A good visualization, of course, but not very helpful when it comes to side-stepping something unpleasant.
“So you’re going to need to just suck it up,” says Kristina Foster, my physical therapist at UnityPoint Health Physical Therapy, West Des Moines, as she pushes me into the edges of pain.
I worship Kristina. She is my link to recovery. She promises to help me walk again after knee surgeries, and, perhaps more importantly, she will make it so I can continue my lucrative career as a male model.
OK, I made up that “model” part, but she really is my pathway to learning how to climb the basement stairs without ropes or a spotter.
And, yes, even though I’m the guy who eats pain for breakfast, Kristina knows the truth about me. At my first session, I was on the therapy table as Kristina, all masked up, explained the rules.
“Joe, as I straighten your leg, just tap out if it gets to be too much.”
“I haven’t started yet,” Kristina said with a frown.
So, who knew?
Today, Kristina bends my right knee closer and closer to my thigh while, yes, small tears form in the corner of my eye.
Kristina is correct. Pain does suck.
But, then again, aren’t stories with a little pain the best stories we share with each other?
For example, years ago my oldest boy ran off the playing field in high school and dramatically slid onto the wooden bench next to his coach. The slide was flamboyant youthful energy with a dash of teenage devil-may-care. I loved it. But the story only endures because, in his slide, my son embedded a two-inch splinter into his butt so deep that my wife and I had to take him to the emergency room to get it out. Now that’s a story to be told and retold to his wife and daughter.
Or what about when I was riding on the front handle bars of my friend’s bike in the fourth grade? My pants were so baggy (when everyone was wearing tight jeans like they are today) that they curled up into the spokes and flipped me face-first onto the pavement. Voila, one chipped tooth. It’s a good story that underscores my complete lack of any fashion sense. And pain? Front and center.
And that naturally leads into the dramatic “fly eating” story. One day I promised my three kids that I was going to catch a fly in my mouth as it buzzed around the kitchen.
“You can’t catch that fly,” they all shouted with glee.
“Hah, I spit on your doubts.” And I launched myself high into the air as the fly flew over the refrigerator.
Of course, the fly lived to raise a large family, but my non-chipped front tooth caught the top of the refrigerator on my return flight to the ground. And now I have a matching set of chipped teeth and a great story. All because of a little pain.
“Pain is perceived in the brain.” Kristina patiently explains as I lie on the table whimpering. “Pain is a perception of a stimulus to your body. And so sometimes there are other factors playing into pain like stress, anxiety or fear.”
“Or how about something is just flat out painful?” I mumble face-down on the therapy table.
“Obviously there is something physical to pain. We call it a noxious stimulus. A stimulus to the body that is not normal. We need to treat the noxious stimulus. We need to treat the tight muscle or the bone that is out of place. We also need to address the other factors so that you can perceive the stimulus as not quite as painful.”
So, Kristina, what’s in this job for you?
“I love getting to know people. I love hearing their stories. I love hearing about their family. And it’s fascinating how much that plays into their therapy. So, the joy is that.”
But then your patients all leave you, don’t they?
“Of course, the joy is also when people are done. As much as I love them, I love when they say, ‘I’m pleased as punch.’ Or ‘I’m back running.’ Or ‘I can finally go up and down the stairs when I haven’t done that in a year.’ The joy of seeing people accomplish their goals is exciting.”
Kristina gives my knee another push.
“By the way, I know what it’s like to be in pain. I know what it is to be sad. I don’t judge my patients.”
Lucky for me.
“Now this is going to hurt.” ♦
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www. joesneighborhood.com.