"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stretching to Heal

By Micky Wolf

Several years ago I incurred a shoulder injury that, well, initially didn’t seem like an injury. It was only after a few weeks had gone by and the pain intensified that I realized it was serious and needed medical attention.

By the time I got around to making an appointment with the doctor, I could barely reach my arm a few inches toward the back seat of the car. After a thorough, and yes, miserably uncomfortable exam, my doc made his stern and clear-to-the-point pronouncement:

“You have a frozen shoulder as the result of a previous injury.”


“And now you have adhesions, or scar tissue. Happens when you tear healthy tissue and it tries to heal on its own.”

“Okay.” Properly subdued, this one.

“You have two options. First and best—you can go to physical therapy three times a week for six weeks and do the stretching exercises they tell you to do at home every day—which should break it loose OR…”

OR is usually not a good sign when proclaimed by your doc.

“OR, if you don’t want to do that—and I assure you it will be painful if done properly—I can schedule you to be put under anesthetic and do what you aren’t able to do. Basically, break it loose.”

“Ah…ah…” My goodness, didn’t realize I had developed a stammer.

“It’s your choice. In the meantime, I’ll give you a cortisone shot to provide some temporary relief. Oh, and that is pretty painful as well.”

Fighting back the tears and trying to be brave as the large needle passed through the skin deep into the front of the shoulder, I didn’t even want to venture a guess as to what might be ahead.

Lessons abound

If the first lesson to be learned in all of this was to not try and tough it out—as if that was some indication of being strong—a second lesson is that we ignore pain at our own peril. Whether in small or larger doses, pain is a gift. Really. Pain is one of the ways God speaks to us about the state of our whole being—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.

However, the learning didn’t stop there.

A choice…It didn’t take more than the first session with the physical therapist for me to realize that my work was cut out for me. Fully cooperate and participate, or pay the worse consequences in long term pain. Bottom line—was I willing to suffer now and [eventually] be done with it?

Some days were pure hell. While I could take consolation in knowing the therapists knew how far to push or pull—seriously, this won’t actually break my arm will it?—at times it felt like the tendons were a hair’s breath away from being totally ripped from my shoulder bone. Sweating bullets became more than an amusing, colloquial expression in the reality of feeling like it was actually happening.

Choosing to continue the exercise regimen was further motivated by the realization that having the doctor free the joint would not resolve the issue. Why? The rest of that story, he had kindly informed me, is physical therapy. A bit of irony for sure—one way or the other, you end up in the hands of trained torturers under the guise of ‘rehab’.

Perseverance is a verb…

The only way to regain full use of the shoulder was to break it free from the confines of the adhesions. Translation?—many repetitions of stretching and working the upper arm. Suffice it to say “dang, this hurts!” was not the only expletive of sorts to come out of my mouth.

It’s one thing to say we will persevere and stay the course under less than ideal conditions. It’s quite another to continue to put one step in front of the other—or in this case one shoulder—when all you want to do is crawl into a corner and pull it in after you.

However, persistence was beginning to produce results. Gradually, the therapists and I noticed things were changing. Mobility was returning. Reaching for the wide elastic band one more time, I sweated through another workout, encouraged by their smiles and cheers. Tugging here, pulling there. More than once, a few tears would escape between moans and groans.

At the heart of it…

None of this would have been effective if my heart wasn’t fully engaged in the process. Why? Commitment to overcoming any difficulty or challenge must extend above and beyond the thinking realm. The nature and composition of our thoughts is a great place to begin, but apart from a heart attitude of believing we can succeed—through cooperating with God’s grace—we may find ourselves stuck at the starting gate.

Reason and will are absolutely necessary in taking on the hard stuff of daily life but without a full surrender of the heart to trusting God to accompany us—and occasionally carrying us—we end up relying on our own strength rather than tapping into the vast and deep well of His love and encouragement to uphold us in those moments when we wonder if we can move forward one more inch.

Making it a priority…

For the better part of those six weeks most every aspect of my life revolved around going to therapy, being at therapy, returning from therapy—every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. But that wasn’t the whole story.

My beloved also had to make sacrifices for me to stay focused. While I may have been the one who needed to do the exercises, he was not spared involvement. Some of my usual responsibilities, especially around the home, had to be let go of completely, or picked up by him. His daily life and usual routines were rearranged as much as my own. While not always easy, we accepted these changes in light of our shared desire for my recovery.

The best prescription…

The consequences of journeying through this life as imperfect beings means you and I will have numerous opportunities to deal with injury, pain, and suffering. These injuries may be the result of our own choices and actions, or in some instances, those of other people. While this may seem a rather dark prognosis, there is most certainly a lighter perspective to embrace. Regardless of the painfulness of the remedy, our loving God is there to accompany us each step—or stretch—of the way.

Do I have an area of my being in need of healing?

Is God inviting me to “stretch through the pain” with all my heart?

How do I feel about being in pain?

Can I trust God to write His best prescription to bring about healing?

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