I sat across the table from Chuck, marveling at his robust good health. We'd just been to see a play — and instead of looking pale and pinched after it ended, he stood up, clapping wildly through the last curtain call.
Six months ago, he'd been crossing a road in the crosswalk and was hit by a car, tossed up on the hood and dropped to the asphalt crosswalk below. Chuck is 75 years old. Even before the accident he was in pain from lifelong back problems and several resultant surgeries, tossing pills down and placing a special pillow behind his back when he sat down to watch a play.
He was the last person I expected to recover after being smacked by a car. Yet he did.
In April, I sat across from Vi, a member of my writer's critique group. Even though she was the group's leader, she had not contributed much in the weeks running up to that meeting: She'd been too sick. Her doctors couldn't diagnose the problem, but she was in pain.
They'd told her she had low blood sugar, but that did not account for her malaise. She took lots of pills but had to lie down before our meetings in order to be able to sit up during the two hours the group compared manuscripts.
At this meeting, though, everything had changed. She'd prepared a manuscript for us to review and critiqued each of ours with zeal.
What had made the difference for both of these people? They had started physical therapy. Both were proud of their efforts even while they groaned about how "tough" the therapy was.
They don't know each other, but each said the same thing with the same adoring smile: "My physical therapist puts me through torture, but she makes me feel so much better." Both had been able to cut down on their medications; both had lost weight through the new physical activity. They'd each regained vigor and rekindled their interests in favorite pursuits. They had dropped their preoccupation with what hurt and picked up determination to keep on moving.
It seems that the human body is made to move. Until recent generations, people walked long distances and used physical labor to get food and keep clothes clean. What makes life easier can also be destructive. The penicillin pill, a true benefactor to human existence, may have seduced us. lt cured so many formerly intractable illnesses that we thought we could take a pill to cure anything. But, so often, moving may be a better cure than the pill bottle — and its side effects are joy, productivity and renewed interest in life.
Chuck and Vi will probably never meet, but I still see both of them. Faces shining, bodies slimming and prescriptions dwindling, they hold forth, telling how many sweaty miles they've done on the treadmill or the new bone-crunching move they've learned. They're both attached to their physical therapists. I think they'll continue the torture of physical activity long after therapy ends — because they love it so much and it makes them love life so much better.
Slayback is a teacher and marathon runner. She lives in Newport Beach with her husband and Chihuahuas, Stella and Blanche. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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