A couple of weeks ago, I was sent to Physical Therapy by my orthopedist. My right shoulder has been aging at a faster rate than the rest of me, and its resulting asymmetrical relationship to the rest of my body had caused some (pretty serious) pain. Trip to the ER, X-rays, some damn fine pain meds, the usual drill.
First visit to the Physical Therapist… nothing particularly notable other than that the assistants are universally young, fit, and sunny. They must be given smile pills before starting work, because they are all. just. so. happy.
I’m not. My shoulder hurts. I haven’t had my coffee yet.
After an initial consult, during which my upper body is twisted and contorted into positions worthy of a fakir on his bed of nails, I’m ultrasounded and released into the “therapy room”. More bright sunny assistants, all too willing to help with proper posture and positioning while I go through my assigned exercises.
And I go through my reps and series, and hang from a beam in the ceiling, and pull my arms behind my back and lift, all the while pressing my “scaps” together, while my “traps” and “delts” and “lats” all do whatever it is they’re supposed to. It’s interesting to have come this far in life and not be aware of these essential bits of equipment.
I get my rhythm together. It almost feels good to go through the routine, even though it feels unnatural in the extreme. And when I relax, I look around to the various other stations in the therapy room. Each one has an inhabitant: someone, who like me, has pulled or twisted some esoteric part of their anatomy out of alignment, and now must go through a few hours of sunny dispositions every week while the misalignment is aligned.
Oddly, I notice that everyone at the other stations is aging; they’re well past middle age, and into “senior citizenship” if my eye doesn’t deceive. Characteristic liver spots, thinning hair, and a common slight stoop in posture that hints ever so subtly at the later effects of age. “Wow”, I say to myself. “There’s some pretty old folks working out in this room…”
And, inevitably, in the course of my visual meanderings around the room, I see a familiar figure across from me. “Wow”, I say to myself. “Who’s that older guy who looks sort of familiar?”. I recognize the baggy shorts, the worn-out Grateful Dead T-shirt stretched over the growing paunch, the graying hair and the slight stoop in posture heralding the wonders to come. There’s even a hint of the “Olive-on-toothpicks” look that many older men achieve as their leg muscles atrophy, and their guts continue to expand,
You know what the revelation was. You know that the figure across the room was necessarily my own reflection in a mirror, not immediately recognized as I had taken off my glasses. And as I saw that man across the room, and looked at the others grunting and straining through their own assigned Range-of-motion therapies, I realized with some wistfulness that it was not a matter of me and them…
They and I have become “us”, all sitting together in the lifeboat as it slowly fills with frigid seawater.