Healing and stretching out to embrace the future

BY KATE WALTER  |  The trouble started last winter when I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my right elbow, which bent over my chest as I slept. I had to use my left hand to straighten out my arm. I took an Advil but had trouble falling back asleep.

After my lover of 26 years left me, I still conked out bunched into a ball. It was a habit developed so I would not disturb my ex, who was a bad sleeper.

As I lay awake, waiting for the anti-inflammatory to kick in, I realized it was better to be looking for the right partner than getting old with the wrong one.

My theory was that I injured myself from propping my elbows on my computer table and cupping my chin in my hands like “The Thinker” as I compulsively read from the screen. Or was this the beginning of the end? I’m 64, in good health, until now. An alternative medicine fan, I saw my holistic chiropractor, who said I had tendinitis and needed physical therapy. I dreaded adding more appointments to my busy work schedule.

But the sleep deprivation affected my teaching and the pain kept me from my yoga practice. I could barely do the cobra pose. I missed the classes that I loved and felt depressed. Instead of my nightly ritual of dancing around my apartment, I sat at the table drinking wine. I was sidelined from what moved my spirit and helped me recover from the difficult breakup: yoga and dance.

So I gave in and saw an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor spent five minutes with me, read my X-rays, said I had tendinitis in my right elbow and an inflamed muscle and prescribed medication. I hated taking prescriptions, but hoped this drug would spare me from gym visits. I took the pills for less than a week. It eased the pain but I was too drowsy to teach “Critical Thinking” to my students at the community college.

I called back the surgeon’s office and insisted upon a referral to physical therapy, as I looked for a place nearby that took my insurance. I went online, read the comments on Yelp, raving about Fusion, in the Meatpacking District, a 10-minute walk from my building in the Far West Village.

I was pleased by the kind aura of Dr. Dave, a handsome young Asian American, a Columbia graduate with a compact build. After doing my intake, he manipulated my arm to test my range of motion. It hurt when he pulled it straight. I lay on the table as he poked and prodded my sore spots. He said I had scar tissue around my elbow that needed to be dissolved.

We set goals — to stop the aching that woke me up and to resume my yoga classes. In the gym area, a physical trainer showed me strengthening exercises. Never a gym person, I hated being surrounded by scary machines.

I was busy wrapping up my classes for the spring semester and resented running to this place twice a week. I saw Dr. Dave for 20 minutes and worked out with the trainer for 40 minutes. Then I got my elbow iced.

I confess I did not do the exercises at home and had trouble figuring out how to adapt them to my loft. But I did start to feel a little better.

Once my classes finished at the end of May, I threw myself into rehabilitation. I found a place in my building’s courtyard to wrap the elastic strap. The two tiny walls on the side of my entranceway substituted for the poles in the gym. I bought a big can of beans for rolling out my elbow.

Soon I realized I was sleeping through the night! That felt like a miracle. I reported it to Dr. Dave.

“That’s great,” he said, as he tested my arm. “You’re much better and have more range of motion.”

“It still hurts when I first wake up but not as much,” I said. “I’m not even taking Advil anymore.”

I was a convert. I went to the gym area and aced my routine. I chatted with other clients, who told me Fusion was a great place. I ran into a neighbor, a painter, whose stroke affected her hands. Many clients had scars from surgery. I felt grateful I had a relatively minor problem.

As I started to feel better, I decided to resume yoga with my favorite teacher, Karuna Jo, who recently returned from India. I told her about my elbow and she urged me to take it easy.

“No pain, no pain,” she said.

I was happy to be at Integral Yoga but I felt a little creaky and took it slowly. I did all the poses except the shoulder stand, which I modified. The second time back, I felt stronger and more confident. I arrived early and was doing warm-ups when Karuna Jo said, “Oh Kate, I have something for you.”

She went to her bag and retrieved a delicate necklace made of tiny seeds that had a fragrant smell.

“I brought these back from India for my regular students. It was dipped in the Ganges.”

“Wow. Thank you,” I said, giving her a hug. “This must be blessed with good energy.”

I slipped the necklace into a pocket in my yoga bag. At home, I draped the beads over a picture in my ancestors’ corner, where I have photos of my grandparents. It seemed too precious to wear. I saw it as a talisman signaling my recovery.

That night, I put on a music collection, “Let’s Get Down With the Philly Sound,” and started dancing to the O’Jays singing, “I Love Music.” It was released in 1975, the year I escaped my conservative Catholic family in New Jersey and moved to the Village to be a journalist and a dyke. I had not danced in weeks. Now I was back in the groove.

I skittered across the floor with a foot pattern I picked up in African dance class and threw in some arm moves from disco and rock. I thrust my right arm straight into the air in a waving movement as I sang, “Music is the healing voice of the world.” I could not have done that a few weeks ago.

The next day, I reported my arm thrust and agility to my trainer.

“That’s awesome,” she said.

In two months, I’d gone from resistance to a devotee of physical therapy. Dr. Dave agreed I could wind down in July. I felt a little sad to be leaving my healers, but I realized that I’d unconsciously changed my sleeping posture. I no longer curled into a ball to shield an absent partner. Now I spread out, open and expansive, taking care of myself.

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3 Responses to Healing and stretching out to embrace the future

  1. Beautiful article Kate! I am also a yoga teacher at Integral Yoga Institute and am friends with Karuna Jo. She is a terrific teacher and kind person. Kate, glad to hear you are stretching out and embracing the future. Good move!

  2. Hi Kate, It was a lot of fun to read your article and see my name. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I also enjoyed hearing your tale.
    I'm off to Spain and Portugal for two weeks.
    See you when our schedules coincide.
    Karuna Jo

  3. Great to hear your story and congrats on your recovery. I am dedicated to PT now, especially after my recovery from a bad hip dislocation. I remember the nights when I used to cry for hours without able to move because of the pain, and still the memories bring tears in my eyes. I was referred to a nearby PT (www.dynamicphysiotherapy.ca), by my doc. I was very low and didn't expect much to change, but prayed for a miracle to change everything. Started my sessions and in couple of months everything changed. I barely remember how it all started.

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