“Now, pull your right knee up to your left ear,” the therapist told me in all seriousness. I looked out the window to see if any pigs were flying by.
It was the first day of my physical therapy at the Newport Naval Base clinic. Upon turning 48 years of age last June, my knees decided they’d had enough. I ignored the aches and pains for a while, chalking it up to the weather as if I was one of those cows you see lying down when rain is coming. But after my right knee started buckling like an old Barbie Doll, I finally decided to see a doctor at the base clinic.
“You’re welcome to keep them when we’re done here,” the clinic’s x-ray technician offered with a smile, handing me a pair of ridiculous paper shorts. He took images of my knees from all sides, and told me the doctor would call me with the results.
“Mild to moderate degenerative arthritis, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and a possible sprain,” she told me, but all I heard was, “Go find a rocking chair and some tapioca pudding, because you’re officially ancient. ” I was prescribed anti-inflammatories and ordered to attend twice-weekly physical therapy sessions for a month.
I envisioned myself being gently guided through therapeutic motions intended to heal my stiffened joints, 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 clinic’s half dozen physical therapists and brought into the cheerful PT suite with its colorful work out equipment, entertaining background music, happy houseplants, padded tables and million-dollar view of the Narragansett Bay.
Although I would have preferred to nod off on a padded table while enjoying the view, 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 middle-aged Cirque du Soleil reject. These awkward maneuvers were always followed by seemingly endless leg lifts that left me covered in an unladylike sheen of sweat.
While the therapist cleaned the table, I had to endure a final mélange of strengthening exercises. Isometric lunges, calf raises, 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.
Thank God I’m already married.
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. Despite the fact that I never committed the therapists’ names to memory and often wondered if they were all descendants of Emperor Caligula, I must admit, they knew what they were doing.
Thanks to their vast knowledge and firm encouragement, my knees are getting better and there’s no need to go out and buy that rocking chair just yet.
I never would have guessed it, but apparently, pigs can fly after all.