Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Beauty of Rehab

To join with my patients as a partner in the task of restoring dignity to a broken spirit.  This is the true meaning of rehabilitation.”—Dr. Paul Brand

Therapy of any kind is hard, courageous work.  It forces you to confront your limitations, to come face to face with your vulnerabilities, and yet I believe there is beauty to be found within the experience.  This spring I was working with a physical therapist to strengthen my hip flexor muscles.  The right side of my body seemed to respond easily to the motion; my left was a different story.  For what seemed like a solid minute, I lay on the table and with every ounce of mental energy I could muster, I told my left leg to move in a certain direction.  It would not budge.  Eventually, other muscles kicked in to compensate and I moved about an inch.  My therapist recognized my struggle and said to me, “Is your left side a little tighter than your right?”  

“Yes,” I responded.  “I think I just met my match.”  

“It’s okay.”  

I felt so dignified in that moment, like I had just been given space to struggle without being judged.  In fact, I felt like I had a cheerleader standing beside me.  In light of this experience, I asked one of my former physical therapists to respond to this question:  “What beauty have you discovered in helping people who have encountered an injury or disability gain a greater sense of movement?”  Enjoy what Connie Bromaghim has to share!


 “At first glance, I thought the answer would be easy to write as I recalled patients I’ve had over the more than thirty years in the profession. I remembered as a young therapist in Duluth, MN, organizing “an old-time dance” activity for the post-stroke rehab patients. The beauty came in their smiling faces upon hearing some favorite polkas and waltzes as they tried harder to move their arms and legs that no longer ‘danced” the way they once did.

Then, I recalled the beauty in a young man injured in a motorcycle accident. After re- learning to walk, we walked outside in the sunshine. He heard sounds he’d not recently heard while in the hospital and he felt the wind blow. He bent down to feel the grass and a smile lit his face. Finding that he had to get up from the ground in a different way really didn’t matter because he was so delighted to be outside again.

Pediatric patients like Jenny were always especially fun because I always felt challenged to make necessary exercises playful, if possible. Rehab can be daunting, exercises can be tough, but less so if the focus is on a game that achieves the same outcome. Beauty is found when helping a patient accomplish rehab goals with optimism, pride, confidence, and feeling good with one’s “new-normal.”

I’ve spent most of my years in physical therapy working with chronic pain patients. These individuals often feel disabled because pain interferes with their lifestyle, perhaps their every movement. Beauty comes when they learn, and are committed to doing new techniques, to manage their pain because they find that their spirit feels better too. And, that’s the key. For me, it is beautiful when I know I have found the right connections and built a rapport that helps patients move forward with new strategies to feel better, even if not totally pain free.

For the challenge is not solely in accomplishing an exercise program but in developing the understanding to want to change, breaking down tasks to simple components and achieving small successes that eventually lead to bigger, more positive successes. When that happens, there truly is beauty and grace in those new-normal movements because they are done more confidently, with a spirit that moves more freely.”
Using my Gumby and Pokey toys as part of rehab with Connie 1989.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Meet Noah

Greetings!  I’d like you to meet Noah.  (It will only take 30 seconds, I promise!)

What did you notice most after watching that video?
Noah’s smile?  
His steady pace?
His determination?
Did you notice the teacher standing by the door at the end of the video, smiling and looking on? 

This week, you have an opportunity to help other children like Noah find their stride.  Thursday, July 26th is Miracle Treat Day at DQ restaurants across the country.  One dollar for every Blizzard purchased will be donated to a children’s hospital in your area.  In MN, the money goes to Gillette Children’s Hospital who works with kids like Noah.  This year, an additional dollar will be donated if you simply respond to an RSVP of this public event on Facebook.  Click on this link to find out more: 

See you at DQ!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

There is More

Last week we started talking about the beauty of movement, especially in the face of limitation.  To continue our conversation and further illustrate this idea, I asked my friend and veteran marathon runner, Steve Wiens, to write about what it is like to move through the last few miles of a race.  Enjoy!

There is More, by Steve Wiens

Everyone who has run a marathon insists that the marathon is really two races: the first twenty miles, and the last six point two. 

During the first twenty miles, assuming you have adequately trained, your body does what you have prepared it to do: At mile 10, you wonder why you don’t run marathons every day of your life. Thousands of people shout your name, cow bells echo the clarion call of your own personal greatness, endorphins pulse through your body, and the road floats beneath you as you glide through the miles with effortless joy. 

At mile fifteen, your legs begin to feel fatigued, but you still enjoy the race. I’ve even had deliriously happy moments at this phase of the race when I felt sad about the inevitable finish line looming in the distance; I didn’t want it to end! 

But at mile twenty, it all begins to change. The glycogen in your body is rapidly decreasing. What used to be a slight ache in your hips is now constant and sharp, as if you are missing some essential lubricant, without which you will grind to a halt, in a heap of smoke and bones and pain. The bottoms of your feet, which used to feel fluid and graceful, are now made of iron; they’re heavy and they clang in protest with every foot strike.

If the first twenty miles are mostly physical, the last 6.2 are all mental. 

Steve at mile 25 during his 9th marathon

Fans lining the sides of the course, noticing your obvious pain, will shout encouraging banalities like, “You’re almost there!” even though you know you are nowhere near the end. Your mind and your body are now engaged in full-scale war. Your body demands that you quit this foolish, meaningless quest. I have run 10 marathons, and I cannot recall even once when I did not desperately want to quit somewhere between mile 20 and the finish. 

In the last two miles of the race, your focus narrows. You feel every stab of pain, your brain is foggy with dehydration, the blister on the back of your heel is now open and raw, and you can’t believe you haven’t seen the mile 25 marker yet. You convince yourself that in your state of semi-delirium, you must have missed it. But something inside you knows you have not. 

Mile 25 is a torture chamber. But as you creep by the miler marker, you realize that you are going to finish. Though the pain continues to increase, your mind has conquered, and your body has given in. You know that you are going to finish. I have run one particular marathon 9 times, so I know every step of the way intimately, especially the last 1.2 miles. At mile 26, the runners turn slightly left, crest a gentle hill, and then the finish line comes into view. In that moment, a wash of emotion comes over me that causes me to weep, every single time. By some act of exquisite grace on the part of the course planners, these last two tenths of a mile are mostly downhill, and sometimes I draw on the last drips of glycogen that remain in my body and attempt to sprint down that hill and across that mat, signifying that the race has ended, and I have endured. 

I do not run for the medals, tee shirts, for accolades from friends, or because I’m addicted to competition. I run marathons because of what is forged in the crucible of those last painful miles of the marathon: when I fear that there is nothing left, there is more. 

There is more.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Body's Grace

What is the most beautiful movement you’ve ever seen in your life?  A heartbeat on an ultrasound monitor; Michael Phelps winning his record breaking 8th gold medal; a heron taking flight as it sores across the lake?  Movement seems to have the capacity to evoke many different emotions within us. 

Movement can be emotional.  A few weeks ago I fed my baby nephew his bottle and he reached up and gently touched my face.  

Movement can be funny.  Are any of you Seinfeld fans?  I think there are only a handful of actors who are as hilarious as Michael Richards.  Check out this 30 second clip of Kramer scrambling for a seat on the subway.  

Movement can be triumphant. Remember Karri Strug’s final two vaults during the ’96 Olympics?  She sprained her ankle during the first vault, but got up and did it again, fighting incredible pain, to win a gold medal for the team.

Movement can be different.  Have you ever taken the time to watch yourself move?  You might be surprised at what you see. Earlier this summer I was dressed up to meet a friend for a lunch date.  As I was walking quickly down the street towards the restaurant, I caught a glimpse of myself moving in a store window.  I was shocked at my appearance; I couldn’t believe how “tangled” my legs appeared.  My movements seemed to clash with the outfit I was wearing as if I had somehow mistakenly chosen to wear bright red pants under my teal tunic.  It looked “wrong.”  Is that really how I look when I move?

It’s taken me a while, but I am learning that there is beauty to be found in the way everyone moves, even people who live with physical disabilities.  So often, when I encounter someone who faces challenges in their mobility, my initial reaction is, “Wow, that person is really struggling to walk,” followed by, “I wonder what’s wrong?”  

While I think these questions are normal, my whole perspective has started to shift in this regard.  I once heard a radio interview with Matthew Sanford, fellow Minnesotan, yoga instructor, and quadriplegic who had much to share on this topic. Below is my paraphrase of his thoughts. 

We ought to look at people who face physical disabilities differently.  Instead of thinking about how hard it is for them to walk, we ought to consider how well they are moving.  Despite all the challenges that they face, the mixed messages that their minds are sending to their muscles, they are moving exactly the way they were designed to move to the best of their ability.  Their movement is not only one of struggle; it is also one of amazing beauty.

Artist Simon McKeown is interested in showcasing how people uniquely move who have physical disabilities.  He has created computer generated animations recording the movements of 14 people who have physical disabilities including Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, and Brittle Bone Disease.  A video is embedded below.   I’ve never seen anything like this before.  It is both different and unique.  You can read more about this project on his Website: 

This week….

Watch yourself move.  What do you notice about your stride?

Watch other people move.  If you encounter someone with a disability, try to remind yourself of the beauty and grace that is being exhibited before you.  Despite the challenges that this person may face, their body is moving exactly as it was originally intended to the best of its ability.  Amazing!