“Just walk across the room, please.”
He made it sound so easy. He didn’t seem to realize that every step caused pain. As I made my way across the floor, I took a step back in time--suddenly I was eight years old, wearing one of those not-quite-big-enough-almost-covers-me hospital gowns that is supposed to protect modesty but doesn’t, walking to the wall as three different strangers, armed with clipboards, make critical comments in clipped phrases. I heard a gasp behind me, and I was back in the present, wondering what could have caused such distress.
“Ma’am,” said the man in the lab coat, “are you aware that your feet turn in when you walk? Your gait is terribly unsteady. I think you may need to see a doctor. That’s not normal.”
Was he serious? Had he not read my file? Had he even glanced at the stack of medical history forms that took me thirty minutes to complete? The forms that clearly indicated I had mild cerebral palsy, difficulty walking, and multiple ankle injuries?
“Yes. I know. My doctor knows, too. He sent me here because I have so much pain I cannot put weight on my ankle.”
“But your feet--you are dragging them…I really think--”
“I’ll take care of this, Sean,” said a slightly taller, slightly older young man, who led me to an exam table. He helped me onto the table and then covered me with a heated blanket. I snuggled down into its delicious warmth and began to think I might like physical therapy this time around. In the 15 minutes I lay there, I nearly fell asleep.
When he came back, Adam removed the blanket off my left leg and gently turned my foot. I wasn’t prepared for what came next--searing pain that shot up my leg and instantly awakened all my senses--he had begun rubbing my ankle and lower calf with a block of ice. Ice massage! I hated ice massage! As my leg jumped of its own accord to avoid the offending Styrofoam cup in his hand, Adam began to explain how the ice and compression would work to relieve internal swelling before my treatment began.
I knew what it was for and why it was necessary. I still hated it. I had prepared myself for the “joys” of physical therapy, but I hadn’t realized that ice massage was to be one of those joys. Adam had read my file. He asked me relevant questions that restored my confidence in this course of treatment, but didn’t really take my focus off what he was doing. Ten minutes had never seemed so long!
Adam threw the ice cup away and began manipulating the muscles in and around the injured area. His hands brought both relief and pain. Their warmth was welcome, but their ability to find tender areas was jarring. This pain, however, was doable and familiar…I knew it was necessary and worth the discomfort, so as Adam tried to figure out how to make my muscles cooperate, I dreamed of sitting in a hot tub, cranked to 106 degrees with the jets on the back of my calves. Funny, but I never minded going from the hot tub into a nice, cold pool, so why was ice massage so different?
Why? Pain. Jumping into a pool is as refreshing as a cool cloth on the forehead when one has a fever. It brings relief. Ice massage brings awareness…awareness of every nerve in the body and that something’s wrong. Most of us would prefer not to be so knowledgeable. Acknowledgment means recognizing that there is a problem. Recognition forces us to do something about the problem. Doing something often involves discomfort, and we prefer to be comfortable.
Sometimes that means we’d prefer comfort over healing. We avoid doctors and dentists, difficult conversations, and dealing with our bad habits. It’s easier, and we think it’s less painful. But denial doesn’t make the problem go away; in fact, it can lead to bigger problems, especially when what we’re denying is our sin. Conviction by the Holy Spirit can feel like ice massage…and it certainly has the same effect: it reveals the nature of the problem and makes true healing possible. Because I want healing, I am willing to be convicted. I know that the pain is temporary, and that His forgiveness surrounds me with the warmth of His love.
Adam has finished, and has another Styrofoam cup in hand--but he says he has a blanket, too. I’m ready.
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