Hand therapy wasn’t at all what I expected. The waiting room was full and seemed to be split evenly into two groups. Older, gray-haired people and young, mostly clean-cut people. A lot of the young people were wearing wrist braces. I kept my scarred hand in my jacket pocket. No one seemed to recognize me, which was good.
I had to wait a while for my therapist to be available, so I read an issue of People that was over a month old (and by “read” I mean skimmed).
The receptionist called my name–just my first name–and I went up to the desk where I had already checked in.
“The doc wants you to get an updated X-Ray,” she said, and handed me a routing slip. “It’s down one floor.”
So I trundled on down to the X-Ray department, where I waited another fifteen minutes or so before they took me into the X-Ray room and had me sit in a chair and place my hand on a square plate. The technician left the room and then came back in so quickly I hadn’t fully registered that the hum and click I’d heard was the X-Ray being taken. I had to wait around several minutes, though, while the film developed and they looked at it to see if it was good enough or if they needed to shoot another.
It wasn’t, and they had to do it a second time, but eventually they sent me back to the hand therapy department with the film inside a big envelope. Back in the waiting room, the individual people were different from before but the demographic makeup was still the same.
I got a sneery sort of look from one of the older women this time, so I picked up a copy of The Economist to read instead and shake her conceptions of me, whatever they were. I’m not sure she noticed, but actually the Economist held my interest much better than People. Oh, sure, my eyes glazed over at some of the various stodgy articles about third-world unrest, but one about how Chelsea, a small city on the Boston outskirts, had declared bankruptcy was sort of fascinating. And there was a review of a biography of Sarah Bernhardt.
I didn’t know anything about Sarah Bernhardt and yet I knew the name. When I read the review I learned she had been “the first deity of popular culture. Like Chaplin, Monroe and even Madonna, she achieved the curious honour of being famous partly for being famous.” Apparently, in the late 1800s she was the most famous actress in the world, often played male parts (including Hamlet) when she wanted to, and was the muse of painter Alphonse Mucha.
She made me think of Ziggy. I was absorbed in reading the review when they called my name.
A scrubs-wearing assistant stood at the doorway to the waiting room, with my chart in one hand. I followed her back to a small office where I sat until a doctor who looked straight out of a soap opera walked in–by which I mean he had daytime TV good looks: dark hair, blue eyes, good chin.
He did not shake hands but did take my X-Ray and stick it on the light box. He didn’t look at it more than a couple of seconds and then he sat at his desk and said, “Let me see it?”
I placed my hand palm up on the desk, showing the scar. He turned it over gently, to see the matching scar on the other side. “Okay, come with me.”
He led me to an exam room and I got up on the exam table? bench? what’s the right word for that piece of furniture? He pulled gently on my fingers and asked me to touch my thumb to various other places on my hand, asking each time if I had any pain and whether it was sharp. “How about now? How about this one?”
No, no, it didn’t hurt. “It just doesn’t move the way it should, and my fingers are kind of weak,” I told him.
He wrote a bunch of stuff inside my folder and then asked me to follow him to another room where many people sat in cubbies wide enough for a chair and just tall enough that they couldn’t see over the dividers while sitting down. He sat me in one of the chairs, slotted my chart into a holder on the wall of the cubicle, and bid me adieu.
The chair I was sitting in had a padded bar that could be put down across the armrests like a kiddie high chair, or maybe like an amusement park ride. Eventually the occupational therapist found me. A woman with a dark ponytail and round glasses that made her look younger than she was, I think.
She put the padded cross bar down and had me lean my forearms on it. Then she ran through a lot of the same things the doctor had.
“You know he already had me do these,” I said, wondering if she’d look in the chart if she’d see that.
“Yeah, but he is not me,” she replied, while tugging on my pinky, “plus he’s a tool.”
I held in a chuckle. “So I get there are a lot of folks here for arthritis, but what’s up with all the twenty-somethings?”
“Carpal tunnel.” She held her hands up like she was going to pray. “Thank god you’re something different.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant that it was good for her or for me that I didn’t have carpal tunnel syndrome, but I guess it was reaching epidemic proportions.
“Press your hands together like this and spread your fingers. Okay, good.”
We ran through about ten exercises I could do. Somehow I had been expecting them to be harder. They were things like lay your hand flat against the table top and then lift each finger one at a time. With one she put a rubber band around my thumb and palm and the goal was just to open my thumb. Easy.
Well, until I’d done it ten times. And then the muscles started feeling tired.
She gave me the rubber band and a printout with the exercises on them. “The stretches do every day. The strengthening ones, every other day. If your hand still feels tired, give it an extra day of rest.”
“Really. You don’t want to overdo it.”
I decided not to tell her what I’d been doing since the surgery. “Okay. But is playing the piano all right?”
“Should be, unless you’re about to tell the joke about not even playing the piano or something.”
“No, wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Good. Come back in two weeks.” She lifted the cross bar and walked away.
I walked back to the apartment, stopping at the Charlesbank Bookshop on the way to buy the book on Sarah Bernhardt for Ziggy.
He was in the middle of another book, curled up on the couch by the front window that overlooked Comm. Ave., but when he saw I was carrying a bag his eyes lit up.
“Here. I thought this might be interesting.” I handed him the bag and he stood up to look inside it.
“Oooh, la divine Sarah!” he declared.
“You’ve heard of her?”
“God yes, anyone who’s studied Mucha has heard of her.”
“She reminded me of you, somehow.”
He kissed me. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me all week.”
“Then, either she’s really awesome or I’ve been slacking.” I pulled him close with my good hand.
“Or both. You can start making it up to me right now, though.”
So that’s how I ended up in bed with Ziggy instead of doing my vocal exercises as intended when I got home that afternoon.