Opinion: Reflections on afflictions


I recently tripped while walking with my wife. One result of my fall was a black eye. I didn’t mind how disfigured I looked but I was dreading the endless jokes from friends about why Mary Ellen slugged me. There is nothing funny about spousal abuse, and Mary Ellen is not the type to resort to fisticuffs. She has a number of subtle means to show her disapproval. How subtle? One time, she was so angry with me I didn’t even know it.

By the end of that week, I developed severe neck pain. Molly, the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office, ordered an X-ray and prescribed some meds. She also wanted me to see a physical therapist. My diagnosis was cervicalgia, which sounds more like a crazy Roman emperor. I also have cervical spondylosis, a longtime condition that was exacerbated by my fall. Any disease that ends with “osis” (like scoliosis, thrombosis or tuberculosis) would scare me if I got diagnosed with it — except for halitosis, which would be more your problem than mine.  

My next appointment was with a therapist named Ellen. She had a PT, Ph.D., MPH, MDT and CLT. I was a little concerned about possible pain from any treatment, and based on her credentials, she could have killed me by degrees. But she was terrific.

The first thing I was asked in the session was whether I was capable of turning my head. I watched as another attractive health care worker walked by, so that question was answered. That first meeting was mostly testing my mobility and flexibility. I was eager to see the evaluation issued by the therapist, which was to be available online to my other health care providers and me. When I accessed my summary, I panicked. The report kept referring to my neck rot. It took me several readings to realize that “rot” was shorthand for rotation.

There also was a checklist of other possible issues the therapist was to look for, including nystagmus, dysarthria and diplopia. No clue what those were, but where on the form was my borborygmus (the medical term for the rumbling, gurgling sound from my stomach)? Whenever it starts in church, I see a lot of full-neck rotations among the congregation. The report also informed me that I had “…reduced flexibility at bilat traps, levator scapulae, scalenes and lengthened rhomboids.” Exactly what I had suspected from the beginning.

Ellen has left for a new job in Washington, DC. For my remaining nine sessions, I will be working with Anna. She was assigned to me when I had my knee replaced four years ago. Now that I have neck rot, I hope she can help me if my head falls off and I need to have it replaced.