Archive for December 4, 2007

Anniversaries and journeys

December 4, 2007

Was looking at the date and something just hit me. It’s the 15-year ‘anniversary’ of my car accident. December 3rd, 1992. In some ways it seems like three lifetimes ago, and in some ways, like three weeks.

There are parts of that night I don’t remember very well, and parts I remember all too well. I don’t remember much about what people were saying and doing after the accident, but I remember the sound of the impact, the feeling of it. Glass shattering, metal crunching, all the breath forced out of my body in one violent shot. Yes, it was quite the memorable evening.

And that evening set me upon a path. At first, I walked that path reluctantly, grudgingly, doing what I had to do “to make the best of a horrible situation”. What an attitude, huh? I didn’t see an ounce of blessing in it, all I could see was pain and labor and difficulty. Every day felt like a death march. Starting that night, I didn’t have a day without severe pain for years. If I dropped something on the floor or wanted to tie my shoes, I had to muster my strength and a bit of courage to get the job done. Can anyone relate to that? I remember dropping a pen at work onto the floor by mistake and thinking “just how bad do I want that pen back right now?” I decided “not that bad” and left it there and picked another one out of the desk drawer. A co-worker sharing the same cube (boy, I don’t miss working in the old cube-farm) looked at me and said “aren’t you going to pick that up?” He didn’t understand. How could he? All I could do was shake my head and say “later, hurts too much right now.”

For the years between my accident and finding Egoscue, almost everything I did physically was first measured and filtered through the prism of pain and functional ability. Will my body let me do that? How will I feel afterwards? Do I have the strength to get that done? It’s tough enough being in constant pain, but having to measure and filter your whole life through that pain, allowing it to have that kind of control over you, that’s almost even more exhausting. It’s relentless and omnipresent. Has anyone else ever got sick and tired of asking their pain permission? I had to ‘check in’ and see if I thought I had the fuel in the tank or the ability to do simple things like hold my newborn baby, change the sheets on the bed and (gasp) rotate the mattress (cmon, it was a queen size).

But I’ll say one thing: I was just ornery enough not to accept this sad state of affairs. I remember when I awoke the morning after my accident, I tried to get out of bed like normal (although I slept sitting up because my back wouldn’t straighten out to lie flat for about 3 weeks) and pain just went screaming through what felt like every nerve ending in my body. I almost passed out and quickly realized I needed a new strategy for getting on my feet. Afterwards, I remember thinking “OK, I’m going to have to figure out what I need to do to heal from this because this is ridiculous.”

initially, I put my hopes in the hands of time. I figured that with the right medications, a few massages and some rest I would bounce back quickly. I’d been in great shape prior to the wreck, so how back could this be? The answer shocked me. Days turned into weeks turned into months, and the progress was pitifully slow. I soon realized that waiting wasn’t going to give me my body back. If I was going to get it back, I was going to have to actively work to make that happen.

So, I made the one decision that in this journey served me better than any other: I decided what my standards were, what I was willing to accept and ‘live with’. And I was NOT willing to live with this kind of pain and limitation. I decided that for better or worse, I would do whatever I had to do, work however hard I had to work, and search for however long I had to search to find a way to get my body back. Period. I was going to succeed or literally die trying, not matter how many years it took.

I went through 6 days a week of physical therapy for almost 2 years. I did an hour of stretching and exercising on my own at home on top of that every day, 7 days a week. After 2 years, I quit all physical therapy because it was obvious it and taken me as far as it was going to take me, which frankly, wasn’t very far. I was still VERY limited and my pain level was still off the charts. But I was off all the meds and just trying to make it day to day, while looking and searching for what could help me. I, literally, spent hundreds of hours and thousand of dollars on different strategies, most of which didn’t help and some of which set me back. I read more books than I can count. And over 6 years after the accident, my back had gotten so bad that I couldn’t tie my own shoes without help. And at this point I’m in my late 30s.

Well God bless the internet. I finally found a copy of Pete’s book “Pain Free” and after reading it, I just knew. You know what I mean, sometimes something hits you and you just know. I knew this was the path that was going to help me get my body back. So I scraped the money together to buy an 8-visit package and started making the 3 hour drive (one-way) to San Diego every other week. When I used up that first package, I bought another one, gradually scaling my visits back to monthly.

After my car accident, I remember a doctor laughing at me when I asked if I could someday run or play tennis again. His response seared into my brain: “Rick, you experienced about 50 years of spinal stress the night of your accident. You don’t have a 31 year old back any more, you have an 80 year old back. Your running days are done. You could be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 50.” Well, when he said that, it just flat pissed me off. And it made me determined to prove him wrong. So when I found Egoscue and they told me I could get better but I would have to work, I just laughed. “Hit me”, I told them. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. And so I got to work. In my first year I think I missed doing my entire menu only 3 days, and only because I had the stomach flu so bad I couldn’t get out of bed. Over time, I improved. I felt better after the first visit, but understand that ‘better’ is a relative term. My pain level maybe went from an 8 to a 6 (and my 8 is different than most people’s 8). But I knew if that could happen, it could go to a 4, then a 2, then a 1. So I kept working. And a year after starting with Egoscue, I was running and playing tennis again, pain free.

By this point I had learned a few things, and after digging out of the hole of chronic pain I’d lived in for so many years, I knew I couldn’t just move on. I knew too many other people who were hurting. I knew that Pete had something special here and I wanted to be a part of it. So when Egoscue began training people to practice this Method, I signed up. I remember I was one of the first 30 ‘affiliates’ worldwide to become certified as an Egoscue Postural Alignment Specialist. I don’t know how many there are now, but I’m guessing it’s many times that.

So looking back on that night, yes, it was the direct source of a great deal of physical, emotional, spiritual and financial pain. There were, literally, days where I didn’t know how I could go on, days were I would just get so tired. But through God’s grace and my stubbornness I kept on keeping on, believing that somewhere out there was an answer. And through that journey I found not only my way back, but was blessed to become a vehicle or instrument to help others do the same. Yes, I say ‘blessed’. There’s no way I could’ve looked at that event years back as a blessing, but blessing definitely flowed from that violent night. I am so privileged to own and run this clinic with my beautiful bride and talented therapist, Theresa. We are blessed to have the Gehlbach’s on staff with us, joining the mission. And we are blessed to have had the opportunity to meet so many of you who have become not just our clients but our friends.

I know people are going to read this who are in pain. I know you hurt. I know you are tired, I know you are skeptical. You keep hearing people say they can help you, but you never get better, you just get poorer trying one thing after another and you’re on the verge of saying “screw it” and accepting that this is as good as it will get. Don’t give up the journey. Keep your faith. Tie one more knot and keep hanging on. I’m not just saying this, it’s absolutely true, I’ve never found a group of people who care more for their clients, who will go more out of their way to serve them, who will go the extra mile to help team with you to make progress than the people of Egoscue. I thank God for bringing Pete and company into our lives. I thank Pete for giving us the opportunity to be the first licensed clinic in the Egoscue system, and I’m thankful we weren’t the last. There are over 20 clinics around the country now. I know every single clinic director personally, and I will tell you flat out, I would not hesitate to send a loved one to any of them. These people are the best. Sure, we’d love to meet you in our clinic, but if you are closer to the one in DC or Atlanta or Ft Lauderdale or Seattle or Salt Lake, get there. Those people will team with you in a way you can hardly imagine. As long as you are willing to keep working towards your goals, they will work with you every step of the way.

Keep on keeping on, folks. And if you are in the midst of a challenging journey right now, don’t despair. If you keep working and keep believing, I promise you, years from now you will look back and see tremendous value and blessing where now you only see pain and fear and uncertainty. It WILL happen, but you have to work to get there. And if we at Egoscue can help in some way, we would count it as our privilege to do so.

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