Sunday, 11 November 2012

In praise of ...


Have you ever needed physio? They tend to lurk at the end of long corridors; the entrance to their sanctuaries have no roses round the door. There are no fanfares. But without them I'd have seized up long ago (a dodgy back), been unable to lift a rucksack ever again (broken shoulder) and now I'm back again, with wrecked knees. If you've never needed one - lucky you. The rest of us know we'd be permanently crock without them.

All my physios have been women. I know there are men in this profession - please bear with me if I stick to the feminine pronoun here. And my physios have mostly been young. (They are getting younger ...) Their  capacity for empathy, for humour, for simply understanding the significance of information that you might drop by the wayside - is astonishing.

I blogged, ages ago, about my crumbly knees. My consultant hopes that phsyio (plus steroid injections - I wince even thinking about those) will keep the muscles in good enough condition to hold what is left of the bones together for a little while longer.

I have a quite different agenda. For if I want to go to Laos (and I do) I need to be able to use a squat toilet.

Yes, it's funny - I thought it was funny enough, when I came back from Cambodia a couple of years ago, to write a little poem:


A line of doors, gunmetal grey, with flakes
of rust around the hinges and a fringe
of dust along the floor.
None can quite restrain the pongs beyond.
The creak of welcome.  And there it is:
a footrest to each side and the chasm –
well, it could be worse. 
I clutch my bag with one hand;
(not sure it would be safe plonked on the floor)
shuffle backwards.  Perch; deep breath; and down.
The sweet hiss of relief.

Now what?
My thighs begin to ache, my muscles twitch.
My knees forget the art of standing up.
I topple, just a little, hoping that the see-saw
will propel me upright, somehow.
Instead I risk reversing, slipping backwards,
sitting like a weeble on surprised porcelain.
My bag, now insecure, falls forward, empties
purse book pens passport bus ticket
on the damp patch on the floor.
And for a moment I fear I might follow it
to bang my head on the metal door
with a clang that will echo and
every woman in the queue will know.

Next time I’ll learn to squat before I go.

My knees are so much crumblier now than when I wrote this.

But my physio did not flinch when I set her the challenge of enabling me to squat. She did not even titter (well, in front of me she did not titter - she may have guffawed when I left). She simply smiled, put gentle hands on my sorry knees to show where the muscles seem to have collapsed, then gave me exercises, encouragement, and support.

I have joined the 'lower limb group' at the specialised gym in the physio clinic. There is the lass who fell of her horse and broke an ankle, who wants to ride again. There is the bloke who was knocked off his bike and broke his femur - he talks of road racing. There is the older woman who slipped, broke her foot, and wants to be able to climb stairs without pain so she can stay in her own home. And me - who wants to use a squat toilet. Together we grimace, and puff, and wince as we make forgotten muscles do what they were designed to do, and do it over and over again. Alongside us the physio is quietly encouraging.

Now I can get down, and (imagine a fanfare) get up again. I can go to Laos.

What have physios done for you?


  1. Love the poem, Jo! Very sincere, and rather moving too, not to mention bringing a smile to my face. Fantastic too to think you'll be able to squat! Who says that as you get older you have to get less agile! Luckily, I haven't needed a physio for years, not since South Africa, but when I was there, I had terrible trouble with neck and shoulder pain (mainly stress related). My physio was a beautiful woman who realised the source of the problem and, after the standard treatment that only 'cured' me in the short term, gave me acupuncture. I hated it, but it worked, much to my amazement! She was wonderful, empathic and perceptive, but also very strong. Some of the standard treatments left me feeling as if I'd been run over by a bus!

    1. I also had acupuncture for my first frozen shoulder, and it was fab - took the pain away so I could exercise it and sort it out. The second time, after I broke it, acupuncture didn't work at all! No idea what that proves ...

    2. Me neither, Jo! since I only had it the once, I can't really say I know all too much about it, but I wonder if it's because mine was muscular and a break is something different? I guess I'll never know, but sorry to hear you broke your shoulder in any event! I hope that's okay now? What with the crumbly knees, and a broken frozen shoulder, you are even more amazing than I thought you were already!

    3. Will admit that the broken shoulder was a low point! But it is now mended - so all is well.

  2. Lovely poem, a monday morning smile is very welcome!
    I'm attempting shoulder physio (read exercises) again now, but because I've been in before with the same injury it's an over the phone consultation which isn't quite the same...I need motivation!
    Have the steriod injections when my back and hip became too much...and get an 'annoyed' ankle from an old broken foot injury...I sound much older than I am! It's early winter damp and cold that get me for a couple of months!

  3. I laughed at that and then thought I shouldn't have because it's serious. But it's also funny, especially the way you tell it. Happy squatting in Laos!

  4. Of course you should laugh, Miriam! I could even see the funny side at the time!

    And Lisa - I know what you mean about winter damp. But (at the risk of sounding like a mother) doing tedious exercises actually helps. I can even go most of mine while reading a book (though that's more difficult with the shoulder ones!) Go to it - you know you need to!

  5. I'm sorry to sound like a broken record but I just don't understand your desire to go to a place where you have to squat to go to the toilet. I'm still shuddering at the aroma from the local trains along the Northern Italian coastline this year. *shakes head in despair*

    1. Ros - for someone who doesn't 'get' what I do, you are wonderfully loyal! If it helps, Laos is much more than squat toilets - there are wonderful temples for a start, and national parks, and a culture I've not met before - I want to begin to understand how it fits in the triangle between Thailand and Cambodia. (I'll tell you all about it when I get there!)

    2. Listen Jo, it's not so much that I don't 'get' it. It's more that I'm sick of living inside my weedy wimpy body. I wish I could do what you do but I'm hard-wired into being physically ill if I try and so don't anymore. This is not about loyalty. I'd say it was more about hero-worship... and yes, I can't wait to hear all about it! :-)

    3. Oh Ros - don't hero-worship, for goodness sake! I do it because I love it - and I am sure there are things that you love, that give you the same sense of deep-down satisfaction. People are just different - there is no better or worse, no right or wrong way of being, just a glorious muddle of us getting along as best we can.

  6. I suppose where there isn't much in the way of running water, they might actually be more hygienic, unlikely as it seems at first....

  7. Oh, and well done! Maybe you should build a squat toilet in your back garden so you don't get out of practice. (I'm not entirely joking. Practice must be half of the skill of using these horrid toilets. )

    1. Yes - practice is vital If I keep telling the muscles what they need to do, then somehow they do it! But if I let them off for a day or two they seem to think it's all over.

      And yes again - if there is no running water they are far more hygienic, though they don't always smell like it!

  8. I found you via a comment you left on "4 kids, 20 suitcases, and a beagle" and just ended up at this poem, which I think is absolutely wonderful! I lived in Thailand as a child and frequently used squat toilets, but never really expected to see one again until I walked into a cubicle at the train station shortly after we moved to Seoul last year. About 75% of toilets here in the city are Western-style, so it's not a regular thing, but you do run across them. You summed it up perfectly, right down to trying to decide what to do with the handbag! I think the idea of a Gap year 'later in life' is a wonderful one which I would love to revisit in my retirement years,so I'm curious to read more about your adventures. In the meantime,I'll be sending a link to your blog to my mum. At 73, she's very likely to think it's a terrific idea and try it herself!

    1. How very kind - and welcome to the blog. I hope your mum enjoys the link. Without wishing so sound like spam - there are links to my books in the website and beside this blog.