A lovely Sunday morning in August.
Idly sitting, watching TV at a time of day I'm not accustomed to.
Watching swimming, Rio Olympics.
Also doing a jigsaw puzzle on an iPad, and sipping coffee. The jigsaw is about water. Lots of wavy turquoise colours.
My thoughts disengage and go inside, which is quite common for me.
Mostly they are forgettable.
This time, though, they hook up in a way that is more interesting, a way that leads to a realization.
Here are the thoughts.
The time: mid-seventies.
I was about 25 or 26 years old, very involved in art school, had won a scholarship to paint intensively in Banff for 6 weeks. While there, I hang out with a small group. One of the group, a woman who lives in Calgary, has logged actual exhibitions. Another woman and I are just students with nothing much to show for ourselves except active learning about perception, and big gobs of enthusiasm.
Woman #1, the accomplished artist, loves to swim. We all go swimming every evening, at the Banff Springs Hotel.
It's a big pool. When I first start, I can make it only about one length, along one side, with frequent rests along the way. By the end of the summer, I can swim 4 lengths with no stops.
On the way home from this excursion we are invited to this woman's place in Calgary.
She and her husband, also an accomplished artist, prepare simple tacos for a group of 5 or 6.
We are sitting, eating, enjoying: She suddenly develops a severe headache. Out of nowhere. So bad that she starts to cry. She stays put, though, doesn't seclude herself in a bedroom or anything. She is in a lot of pain, and everyone tries to figure out some way to help, but nothing comes to mind.
I sit there.
Even though I'm supposedly a trained professional.
I commiserate, but have no clue what I could possibly offer. I am completely outside my therapy world. I can "be" a therapist, but only when I am in that therapy bubble (which in those days was a hospital setting) do I feel the least bit competent.
Like everyone else, in this situation, I feel helpless.
The other woman in the swim group gets up, stands behind her, and rests her hands lightly on the hostess' shoulders. She attempts some amateur massage, which is better than nothing..
I don't think it helped the headache, but at least she tried to help; I did not.
What I conclude from having this drift up into my mind is that it had an influence on me. A big one, mostly unconscious. Mostly being embarrassed that I was supposedly a trained hands-on professional and I somehow lacked empathy to the point where I felt too inhibited to even try to help somebody who was having a bad time with pain.
Whereas my art student friend instinctively reached out and did her best.
Makes me realize my early PT training actually stopped me instead of helping me to help somebody else, with a pain problem, in a common social situation.
I buried this aspect of this memory until now, but to have it drift up in this new way makes me realize that at least some part of my brain tried to sort it any way it could, by helping to motivate my interest in pain and in what I now like to call, human primate social grooming, that instinctive reaching out to help by touching, feeling, massaging, making some kind of physical contact with any individual who feels crappy. This isn't the ONLY reason, of course, but it definitely helped; I do not doubt that now.
Now I feel competent enough to be fully capable to take a role in any situation, and in many cases, I have.
The woman on the plane sitting beside me who told me why she was wearing a brace on her hand. A fresh ulnar nerve compression syndrome from about 7 hours of unaccustomed mountain biking and leaning too long on one handlebar. After about a half hour of working with her, she regained use of her hand and could touch her little finger and thumb together again.
The young Swiss guy sitting beside me on the plane home from Europe who had neck pain.
Many other examples that don't involve planes.
Like the wedding I attended in a back yard, where one of the other guests developed sudden horrible back pain, and the bride sought me out to see if I could lend any help; I and the guest retreat into the house to a bedroom, where I do my very best, and after a half hour at least she can walk a little easier.
Live and learn.
If I had enough lifespan left I would want all therapists to feel competent to help with pain problems or weakness problems stemming from nerve problems in any situation anywhere. Without being overly concerned with conventional North American social boundaries.