Thursday, December 7, 2017

Waiting Room Reflections

Written earlier this afternoon.

       I am sitting in a physical therapy waiting room hoping that my new physical therapist will like me.

       I like to think that at this point in my life I am an ideal physical therapy patient (unlike me circa 2012). I requested this referral from my new rheumatologist due to ongoing hip issues and inflammation in some of my tendons, so I am not being dragged here by anyone but myself. I make jokes about my health and try to ask good questions. I like to chat about reality television and I am generally compliant.

Random update: my lungs have been TRASH over
the past two days! Thank goodness for nebulizers.
       Sometimes I am too compliant. One of my previous physical therapists, who I saw in middle school, was visibly bewildered by me. She would assign me stretches to do and instruct me to tell her if it hurt, but I was so determined to successfully accomplish the exercises that we would not stop them until I had hot, grey tears running down my face, because I refuse to quit and I also refuse to wear waterproof mascara. She was frustrated with my refusal to raise a white flag, and little by little I began to resent her for making me do exercises that exacerbated my pain so much while also recognizing what a difficult patient I was being and feeling sympathy for her. But hey, middle school was hard for everyone. 

       So I am going to try not to go the wait-until-it-hurts-so-much-that-I-am-literally-sobbing route this time, just to switch things up. If my physical therapist is not deeply invested in reality television I have no idea how this will be a healthy PT/patient relationship, but I suppose I will do my best regardless of media preferences. I suppose my physical therapist and I don't have to be friends, but if someone is going to be manipulating my hips and yanking my bones apart I would like to at least know how their day is going and which season of The Bachelor is their favorite. 

      When I was calling to make today's appointment, I mindlessly allowed the scheduler get all the way to the "Have a great afternoon," part of her spiel before almost spitting out a mouthful of iced coffee to squeeze my most pressing question into the final moments of our conversation, "Could you please tell me the name of the physical therapist I am seeing?" Although I like to think that I am a better person now than I was in middle school, I was by no means trying to see this same physical therapist, and I was relieved when she answered with a name I did not recognize. 

      If this physical therapist ends up hating me, I will still leave having made at least one friend, because there was a toddler in the joint waiting room who already went back for an appointment who I found myself bonding with over some blocks and a Dora the Explorer sticker. Her mom was clearly exhausted, I miss kids, and the toddler was bored, so this friendship blossomed perfectly. 

      There is something so humbling about waiting rooms. In a way, I feel as though I am being reminded of my identity as a patient. "You are sick," old People magazines and beige walls scream at me. I used to see waiting rooms as intimidating, but now I just see them as a way of making new friends, especially when I am at appointments by myself. I love being able to dive right in and have a meaningful conversation with someone based on our shared identity, one that we both fully yet cautiously embrace as we sit in plastic chairs and pause when a nurse comes out to ensure that our names are not being called. Somehow I always end up bonding with the moms, too. 

      I have been thinking a lot about the lyrics, "You're not what you thought you were," lately, and how maybe my identity is not necessarily what I assume. I try to picture myself through the lens of a physical therapist and see an absolute hot mess with a million medical problems and complex history who is not quite friendly enough when she is being made to move arthritic joints. When I picture myself through the lens of my friends, I see a trainwreck of a student who cries way more than normal and who is sort of losing her mind and always needing help. When I think about myself, I see a girl who almost withdrew from college this semester and who is a pinch too emotional and who will always be catching up but never caught up. I scold myself for talking too much when I should be listening and for talking too little when I should be speaking up. I feel the identity of a girl who is caught between pain and medications that help with pain but make me feel foggy. I wonder who I would be without any of it, if I had lungs that functioned to their full capacity and joints that moved without pain and if I never had to drop a pill onto the back of my tongue and lean my head back in a ritualistic swallow that has become its own form of prayer. 

     I think there is a possibility that I am not always who I think I am. Maybe I am none of these things. Maybe I need to give myself a bit of a break and walk into this appointment knowing it is about my mobility, not an evaluation of who I am as a person. But when your mobility consumes so much of your life, this is no easy task. I want to be a person who smiles and laughs through pain. Sometimes I am this person, and sometimes I am not. Perhaps that is true for all of us. In some ways, there is so much relief that comes along with being ordinary, and so I have been gripping to all of the conversations I have had recently that remind me that everyone is struggling in one way or another. I have tried to be intentional about reminding people of the lens I see them through. I do not know if it makes any difference in this world, to be honest, but given the stakes it seems like it is worth a try. 

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