Will it be the rack, or the rocking chair?
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: December 14, 2020
“My lower back started hurting again,” I told my new primary care doctor at the base clinic, who appeared to be about 12 years old. My last PCM was also female, but a little closer to my age. The one before that was a nurse practitioner, and the three before that were middle-aged men.
Each time the Navy assigns me a new PCM, which happens frequently, I have to explain myself all over again. Once, my PCM changed a week before my pap smear appointment, and I didn’t know it until I was sitting in the examining room in a paper gown. He walked in, told me to put my feet in the stirrups and to “scootch down to the end of the table.”
Military dependents get used to these cringe-worthy moments in our health care. Due to our mobile lifestyles, we become accustomed to changing everything from hairstylists to churches to pizza joints to schools to dentists to mechanics. Why would our experience with medical doctors be any different?
“My back started hurting a few years ago,” I explained to the young PCM I’d been assigned, “and Dr. … what was her name? She sent me for physical therapy. It worked. Well, until now.”
After giving me a blank stare which seemed to say, “Cry me a river,” my new PCM sent me for a fresh X-ray.
“Mild to moderate degenerative arthritis,” she told me, but all I heard was, “Go find a rocking chair and some tapioca pudding, because you’re officially ancient. ” I was referred for another round of physical therapy sessions.
Although I knew the PT would help to alleviate my back pain, memories of my last round of physical therapy convinced me that it could wait until after the holidays.
“Now, pull your right knee up to your left ear,” my previous physical therapist had told me in all seriousness three years ago. I had to look out the window to see if any pigs were flying by.
I had envisioned myself being gently guided through therapeutic motions intended to heal my stiffened spine, but no one bothered to tell me that I would have to break a sweat, not to mention turn myself into a human pretzel.
Every PT session followed the same general routine: Before I had the chance to get into a good People Magazine article in the waiting area, I was greeted by one of the therapists and brought into the cheerful PT suite with its colorful workout equipment, entertaining background music, happy houseplants and padded tables.
Although I would have preferred to nod off on a padded table while enjoying the music, I was always asked to warm up on a treadmill, followed by rolling my under-stretched thighs repeatedly over a foam cylinder on the floor. Piece of cake, or so I thought. Who knew that the harmless limbering exercise would elicit visions of being strapped to “the rack” by Medieval King Longshanks?
I was then allowed to lounge on one of the padded tables, which would have been lovely, if it were not for the dog leash I had use to pull my extremities into positions that made me look like a Cirque du Soleil reject covered in an unladylike sheen of sweat.
While the therapist cleaned the table, I had to endure a final melange of strengthening exercises. Isometric lunges, step ups, wall squats and something affectionately referred to as “monster walks” — pacing back and forth across the room in front of everyone, legs splayed out in a semi-squat with a giant rubber band around my thighs.
When my ordeal was over, I would grab my belongings from the patient cubbies and bid my assigned therapist adieu, promising to do my homework. I never committed the therapists’ names to memory and often wondered if they were all descendants of Emperor Caligula.
Despite the painful memories of my last PT sessions, I am fully confident that my next physical therapist will teach me to touch my knee to my ear again, and that my back will feel better for it.
No need to buy that rocking chair just yet.