I’ve seen quite a few of my friends and family on social media getting despondent over the extended “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive orders.
People are fed-up, angry, lonely, and just want to get back to normal, and I’m right there with them.
As I was thinking about what we’re having to deal with right now, my brain connected a few dots that I think might help bring some perspective to these trying times, if you’ll indulge me.
I often see patients in my physical therapy practice that are going through really tough times. They’ve been dealing with serious disability, chronic pain, or other changes to their daily routine that have been going on for a year, or two years, or three years, etc.
The fear associated with their condition can sometimes be worse than the actual problem.
I’ve found that one of the most effective ways of reducing people’s fear is to tell them a story about somebody like them. I’ve been a physical therapist for 16 years now and have had the privilege of caring for some people off and on for over a decade.
I’ll tell you about one patient in particular. I’m going to call her Matilda, though that wasn’t her name. When I first met her, Matilda was 32 and had been in a serious car accident. The X-rays and MRIs didn’t show anything, but she had horrendous back pain. She couldn’t work, couldn’t go to her kids’ soccer matches, couldn’t do more than 20-30 minutes of activity at a time.
Over the course of many months, Matilda’s function improved and her pain abated a bit. Despite being able to do more, she still hurt all the time. I was frustrated as a young physical therapist and wished I could do more for her.
Eventually, she stopped coming to her appointments and we lost touch.
Cut to two years ago. I see the familiar name on the referral order, and when I call Matilda back to our exam room, she smiles warmly and saunters right in. Turns out she came to see me for a knee issue that started two weeks prior when she was playing soccer. After I completed the exam and treatment, I casually asked, “so hey, how has your back been doing since we last spoke all those years ago?”
Matilda looked confused for a minute. “Oh…yeah. I saw you after the accident, didn’t I? You know, it’s been fine for at least the past five years and I don’t even think of it anymore. How weird is that?”
When I meet a new patient going through a really hard time, I usually tell them Matilda’s story. I tell them this horrible thing they’re going through now is likely going to be a faint memory someday. It may be weeks, or months, or even years, but its most likely going to pass.
About a week ago, my last grandparent passed away at the age of 89. Her name was Onalee. We called her Grandma Sweetie Pie because Onalee was tough to pronounce when we were kids and because pies were her specialty.
My mom recently told me a few stories about her life that were new to me. Onalee’s parents ran a fruit and vegetable market in Flint. When Onalee was 12, her dad unexpectedly died. Back then, there was no social security and they didn’t have life insurance, so Onalee and her mom (Nellie) had to sell the store and their house.
Nellie went to school and was trained to be an insurance agent, which she did until World War II ended. When the men returned home from war, she was immediately fired because her job was deemed “men’s work”.
Nellie and Onalee moved to the Houghton Lake area where they bought a house. They ran a restaurant out of it and rented out the rooms to guests. All of this occurred when Onalee was between 12 and 18. After high school, Onalee received an Administrative Secretary degree from Baker College, where she also met her husband.
After about 20 years of marriage, Onalee’s husband suddenly abandoned the family and drained their bank account, leaving her with a house payment and three teenagers, two of whom were in college.
So, for the second time in her life, the family breadwinner suddenly disappeared and it was up to the mom to support the family. To hear my mom tell it, Onalee took it like a champ. She immediately negotiated a lower house payment with the landlord and got on the phone to run down scholarships for the kids in college.
When Onalee talked later in her life about these trials and tribulation, she was always very matter-of-fact about it. She never felt the victim. Her attitude was ‘Well, here’s another catastrophe. Better get to work on how to survive it’.
While our current circumstances may not be as trying as some of the things my grandma lived through, this period in our history stinks. We’re inconvenienced, some of us has lost loved ones, and it may continue for quite some time. But we’re going to get through it.
A few years from now, we’ll be trading war stories about how we survived the COVID-19 pandemic. A decade from now, the memories will become fuzzy. Eventually, it will be our generation’s version of ‘I used to walk uphill to school BOTH WAYS!’
When you’re in the thick of trying times, whether it’s due to inconvenience, pain, or disability, it seems like it will never end. I hope taking the long view helps people get through our ongoing trials and tribulations.
Life is eventually going to return to normal, and someday this will all be a distant memory.