The trouble started last winter when I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my right elbow, which bent over my chest as I slept. I had to use my left hand to straighten out my arm. I took an Advil but had trouble falling back asleep.
After my lover of 26 years left me, I still conked out bunched into a ball. It was a habit developed so I would not disturb my ex, who was a bad sleeper.
As I lay awake, waiting for the anti-inflammatory to kick in, I realized it was better to be looking for the right partner than getting old with the wrong one.
My theory was that I injured myself from propping my elbows on my computer table and cupping my chin in my hands like “The Thinker” as I compulsively read from the screen. Or was this the beginning of the end? I'm 64, in good health, until now. An alternative medicine fan, I saw my holistic chiropractor, who said I had tendinitis and needed physical therapy. I dreaded adding more appointments to my busy work schedule.
But the sleep deprivation affected my teaching and the pain kept me from my yoga practice. I could barely do the cobra pose. I missed the classes that I loved and felt depressed. Instead of my nightly ritual of dancing around my apartment, I sat at the table drinking wine. I was sidelined from what moved my spirit and helped me recover from the difficult breakup: yoga and dance.
So I gave in and saw an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor spent five minutes with me, read my X-rays, said I had tendinitis in my right elbow and an inflamed muscle and prescribed medication. I hated taking prescriptions, but hoped this drug would spare me from gym visits. I took the pills for less than a week. It eased the pain but I was too drowsy to teach “Critical Thinking” to my students at the community college.
I called back the surgeon's office and insisted upon a referral to physical therapy, as I looked for a place nearby that took my insurance. I went online, read the comments on Yelp, raving about Fusion, in the Meatpacking District, a 10-minute walk from my building in the Far West Village.
I was pleased by the kind aura of Dr. Dave, a handsome young Asian American, a Columbia graduate with a compact build. After doing my intake, he manipulated my arm to test my range of motion. It hurt when he pulled it straight. I lay on the table as he poked and prodded my sore spots. He said I had scar tissue around my elbow that needed to be dissolved.
We set goals — to stop the aching that woke me up and to resume my yoga classes. In the gym area, a physical trainer showed me strengthening exercises. Never a gym person, I hated being surrounded by scary machines.
I was busy wrapping up my classes for the spring semester and resented running to this place twice a week. I saw Dr. Dave for 20 minutes and worked out with the trainer for 40 minutes. Then I got my elbow iced.
I confess I did not do the exercises at home and had trouble figuring out how to adapt them to my loft. But I did start to feel a little better.
Once my classes finished at the end of May, I threw myself into rehabilitation. I found a place in my building's courtyard to wrap the elastic strap. The two tiny walls on the side of my entranceway substituted for the poles in the gym. I bought a big can of beans for rolling out my elbow.
Soon I realized I was sleeping through the night! That felt like a miracle. I reported it to Dr. Dave.
“That's great,” he said, as he tested my arm. “You're much better and have more range of motion.”
“It still hurts when I first wake up but not as much,” I said. “I'm not even taking Advil anymore.”
I was a convert. I went to the gym area and aced my routine. I chatted with other clients, who told me Fusion was a great place. I ran into a neighbor, a painter, whose stroke affected her hands. Many clients had scars from surgery. I felt grateful I had a relatively minor problem.
As I started to feel better, I decided to resume yoga with my favorite teacher, Karuna Jo, who recently returned from India. I told her about my elbow and she urged me to take it easy.
“No pain, no pain,” she said.
I was happy to be at Integral Yoga but I felt a little creaky and took it slowly. I did all the poses except the shoulder stand, which I modified. The second time back, I felt stronger and more confident. I arrived early and was doing warm-ups when Karuna Jo said, “Oh Kate, I have something for you.”
She went to her bag and retrieved a delicate necklace made of tiny seeds that had a fragrant smell.
“I brought these back from India for my regular students. It was dipped in the Ganges.”
“Wow. Thank you,” I said, giving her a hug. “This must be blessed with good energy.”
I slipped the necklace into a pocket in my yoga bag. At home, I draped the beads over a picture in my ancestors' corner, where I have photos of my grandparents. It seemed too precious to wear. I saw it as a talisman signaling my recovery.
That night, I put on a music collection, “Let's Get Down With the Philly Sound,” and started dancing to the O'Jays singing, “I Love Music.” It was released in 1975, the year I escaped my conservative Catholic family in New Jersey and moved to the Village to be a journalist and a dyke. I had not danced in weeks. Now I was back in the groove.
I skittered across the floor with a foot pattern I picked up in African dance class and threw in some arm moves from disco and rock. I thrust my right arm straight into the air in a waving movement as I sang, “Music is the healing voice of the world.” I could not have done that a few weeks ago.
The next day, I reported my arm thrust and agility to my trainer.
“That's awesome,” she said.
In two months, I'd gone from resistance to a devotee of physical therapy. Dr. Dave agreed I could wind down in July. I felt a little sad to be leaving my healers, but I realized that I'd unconsciously changed my sleeping posture. I no longer curled into a ball to shield an absent partner. Now I spread out, open and expansive, taking care of myself.