I wanted to sleep for a week. Carynne and Ziggy let me have nine hours. That was pretty good.
I actually only got seven, though, because there were two hours in the middle of the night when I woke up thinking about all the work that had to be done before we’d be tour-ready and the only way I could convince my brain to go back to sleep was by slipping out of bed, cutting a Flexeril in half with a steak knife in the kitchen, and washing it down with water from the tap. The knife wasn’t really sharp enough to split a pill, actually, so I ended up with a half to swallow and the other half pulverized into nothing. Whatever. The sound didn’t wake Ziggy and I got back in bed and slept the rest of the night.
The medical followup wasn’t with my surgeon. It was with a physical therapy office off of Bowery. The place was like a small gym with exercise machines and yoga mats in the middle and the sides lined with cubicles with curtains for walls. Each cubicle had a flat exam table, a chair, and a stand with some diagnostic machinery on it. The therapists were dressed in polo shirts not doctor coats and they were mostly middle-aged women.
I was by far the youngest person in there. There had to be eight or ten therapists and each one was working with someone over sixty, maybe older. Some of them were having trouble walking.
The therapist never asked me how I hurt myself or anything like that. She tested the strength of my fingers, wrist, and arm, my grip, my range of motion and flexibility, and the nerves for sensitivity. Ouch, yes, I could feel every place she poked me with a pin. Which was very good news, of course.
Then I told her I was a professional musician and she got very serious. She had curly grey-blond hair and bags under her eyes. I don’t remember her name, actually, but let’s call her Shirley. “I’m not a miracle worker, you know,” Shirley said. “In fact, I don’t do the work to heal you at all. You do.”
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
“I’m sure you mean it when you say it, but seriously, follow-through is what’s going to make the difference between it being like it is now and potentially getting worse with time and improving, maybe even coming close to what it was like before.”
I was sitting on the exam table which put my head about even with hers. “All the exercises. I want them. Teach them to me?”
“You’re sure? Usually I don’t want to overwhelm you because you’ll give up doing them.”
“The thing about being a musician is that repetitive practice comes naturally to me,” I said. I’d said something similar to the last doctor, too.
“All right. But here’s the thing. A lot of the hand exercises are going to seem really simple. Like so simple you may wonder why you’re bothering.”
“I know. I’ve been doing some already.”
She folded her arms. “Okay, show me.”
I ran through the ones I’d been doing for the past couple of weeks. Some of them were really simple, like the one where you hold your hand out like you’re waiting for someone to slap you five, then you turn it over to your palm is toward the floor. Palm up, palm down, palm up, palm down. Twenty times. That sort of thing. I’d also been doing one where I’d squeeze my fist for five seconds, then spread ny fingers all the way out for five seconds, then relax.
She gave me an egg-shaped stress ball to squeeze. “If you want, you can pump this all the time, but actually don’t overdo it. Fifty to a hundred a day is more than enough.”
“Can I do it one finger at a time?” I held it up to demonstrate what I meant. “I’m trying to get back independent finger dexterity.”
“Couldn’t hurt. Long as you don’t get bored. Here’s another one for your individual fingers, then.” She opened a drawer in the stand and pulled out a couple of regular beige rubber bands like you’d find in any office. “Hop down, though. Sit in the chair.”
I got off the table and sat in the chair.
“Feet flat on the floor. Now relax your shoulders.”
I thought about that for a second. My shoulders were relaxed, weren’t they? I slumped a little more.
She chuckled. “Sit up straight, chest out. Do this. Lift your shoulders one inch.”
I hitched them up an inch.
“Now back an inch.”
I moved them back.
“Oh.” I almost wanted to put one foot up in a foot rest. “This is proper playing posture for classical guitar.”
“Good. Remember it. If you’re in good posture, you won’t be messing something else up while you work on something. Now, the rubber bands. You can put one around all your fingers and open and close them like a flower.” I held up my injured hand and she ran the rubber band around the outside of my nails.
I opened and closed it a few times. “Okay, that’s tiring.”
“And then you can do individual fingers versus the thumb. If it gets too easy, double the rubber band so it goes around twice. Or add a second one. Do your left, too, so you’ll have a point of comparison.”
“Okay.” She gave me five rubber bands and I got to keep the stress ball, too. “How many times a day should I do these?”
Shirley chuckled again. “A normal person I’d tell them to do it five times a week and expect they’ll do maybe two or three. You could do every day.”
“Twice a day?”
She gave me a critical look. “You know that getting adequate rest is also important to healing, right?”
“So I’ve heard. But you did just tell me you don’t do the work, I do, so…”
“Once a day,” she said. “You feel any shooting pains, tingling, or numbness, stop doing whatever caused it and call me right away.”
I nodded like I wasn’t leaving the country imminently.
On the way out I booked a followup appointment for the next week. Then I walked down Bowery until I came to Chinatown and walked around there for a while. It was a warm day but not too warm for my denim jacket and I kept my hand in my jacket pocket for the most part. It was comfortable there and I was comfortable walking around the city by myself. It felt good to get away from everyone by being in a crowd, if that makes sense? Then I started to feel a little guilty, like maybe I should have called Ziggy first and asked if he wanted to come with me, but maybe that didn’t really make sense either. I caught a cab on Canal Street then and headed back to the apartment.
The only thing that was keeping me from doing a round of exercises in the back of the cab was the fact that when I tried, my fingers trembled with fatigue. Therapy had been pretty intense. Adequate rest, she’d said, right? We’d see how rehearsal went tomorrow.