Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Rehabilitator: My October Cancer Peep


Following my 2001 surgery I received at-home physical therapy. I progressed from not knowing how to signal my hip muscles to move, to feeling twitches, to seeing twitches, to creating visible movement, millimeters at a time. After ten weeks I could begin weight-bearing and intense PT at the hospital clinic.

On a warm, beautiful March afternoon my dad pulled me away from my Field of Dreams and Triple Play Baseball spring training excitement to drive me to my first appointment with Formula-6, who was the PT clinic’s specialist: young, built, and formerly a competitive gymnast, cyclist, and tennis player.

Formula-6 pushed me when I used the leg press, walking rail, underwater treadmill and other equipment, and his hands-on stretching was torture. My initial terror that my delicate hip would rupture beyond repair was replaced with perpetual trust in him.

Formula-6 has yet to work with another person with an injury like mine, and I think in that clinic of mostly older patients with common problems he relished the challenge. Chemo and low blood counts were roadblocks overcome by accelerated progression when I was able. Boring breaks between sets were remedied by Formula-6 telling stories with his dry humor and South African accent: spraining his ankles so often that his feet sometimes flop over, or his bodybuilding buddies eating entire chickens for a snack.

I worked exclusively with Formula-6 2-to-3 hours a week for 14 months. Now I can walk miles at a time, move with surprising agility, and squat a respectable weight. I also limit myself to eating half a chicken in a sitting.

Formula-6 and I stayed in touch, grabbing lunch and providing video game and movie suggestions to each other. The next times I needed physical therapy I didn’t consider other providers, despite his new private office residing three times farther. Over the years I’ve asked him countless questions about nutrition, weight-training, and the new physics of my body. I consider Formula-6 a life adviser, a role I can only reciprocate when it comes to recommendations for DiCaprio movies or rotisserie chicken.

Last November I injured my shoulder by jerking down the pulleys before performing butterflies, a sign that I used too much weight for the exercise. I figured a shoulder injury was so common that any PT clinic would do, so I went to one down the street. I saw initial improvement, but that tapered. After additional months at this “human assembly line” PT clinic, three orthopedic surgeon consultations and one specialized MRI, the injury remained.

I then drove an hour away to see Formula-6. He correctly diagnosed me just from his initial evaluation and reading the MRI report. This led to dry-humor pokes at all the less helpful health practitioners I saw before him. Formula-6 is a diagnostician, physical therapist and physiatrist all in one. There is very little that stumps Formula-6 besides recalling full-length movies he has sat through and enjoyed, and the number of hours he watches F1 trials and races.

I have provided office support for Formula-6 part-time, watched his kids while he and his wife were away, and cursed with him on the golf course. Cancer probably gives an equal amount as it takes—in this case a lasting friendship. It is fitting that Formula-6 is my Halloween Cancer Peep because his wife loves the holiday and keeps their home decorated year-round, much like I’ve yet to package and store my electric menorah.
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