See me, feel me, touch me heal me.

I had surgery a few weeks ago to fix a torn rotator cuff and shave down my apparently-wonky-shaped acromium bone. As a result, I’m back in physical therapy, and the Tommy line of my title is a perfect descriptor of that experience.

Yu-Lan worked hard on my shoulder, arm, and neck this morning — pulling, stretching, rolling — and then I did some work on my own to coax a little more range of motion into my very resistent shoulder.

Being forced to slow down, to make these small moves, these tiniest of incremental shifts … it’s frustrating, sobering, humbling.

The intimacy of physical therapy fascinates me. Physical therapists touch you in ways only a lover should. And you let them because it’s good for you, because they are reminding your body how it’s supposed to be able to move on its own … and because sometimes it just feels really good. (Yes, sometimes it hurts like %/*&@!, but there are those other times.)

Part of the intimacy of physical therapy is in the fact that you cannot hide from your therapist. They can tell when you’ve stopped doing your home exercises. They can see how you’re feeling just by watching you walk into the gym — how you’re favoring your arm, are you limping more or less than the last time you came, is your back in spasm. They see you in a way most people don’t have the first clue how to look at you, literally past your outer trappings and straight under your skin.

And then there’s the laying on of hands aspect. Another person using their hands and body to manipulate your body, to help your body relearn comfort, ease, capability.

The last time I wrote about PT, I wrote about discovering how hard it is for me to fully relax in my therapists’ hands. And there’s still a fair amount of that, but today I was able to focus more on how it feels to be so thoroughly handled by another person. And, as much as that’s a little alarming, there’s also something soothing about it. There were several moments during today’s session when I felt myself let go, felt myself stop resisting and be limp in Yu-Lan’s hands. She noticed immediately, of course, because she is entirely focused on what’s happening with my body.

Finally,” she said the first time it happened. I laughed, and she said, “Well, you know how you are. But you relaxed. Like for real.”

Yes, like for real. It’s a start, maybe the smallest of signs that this laying on of hands is healing more than my shoulder.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

21 thoughts on “See me, feel me, touch me heal me.

  1. I looked for your writing yesterday – glad to be back with you in the challenge. I’m writing on a different blog this year. My sister is a physical therapist – I never thought about her work this way but I like how you write about it.

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  2. I’ve never had to see a physical therapist, but your experience reminds me of how I feel seeing a massage therapist. ANd it’s exactly why I don’t. I find it hard to become that relaxed at the hands of a total stranger! ANd I feel invaded…somehow! But I am glad for your positive experience with someone that is helping you heal! ANd I enjoyed reading your post! It makes me have a new realization and admiration of the importance of my friend’s job (she is a PT). I will share your thoughts with her.

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    1. Yes, I think there is a lot of crossover in terms of experience with massage and PT. And yes, it’s so hard to become relaxed in a stranger’s hands! I totally understand your sense of invasion. That level of intimacy requires time to build up, but you go to a therapist, and you jump right in! I found a massage therapist on vacation years ago who is clearly a magician because I felt at ease with him instantly.

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  3. I love this post. It’s so honest and pure. You’re not afraid to speak about hands, touch, intimacy, lovers.. really, really beautiful post. Probably the most human, most deep posts I’ve read during the few years here. And so elegant and well written!

    What happened with the #52essays2017 challenge? Is there one for this year? I’d love to do something like that.

    I love essay..

    Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much, Veronica, what a lovely response. 🙂
      The #52essays challenge continues! You can check out the FB page for the group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/321072821730494/), and you’d be so welcome to join. This challenge has been really helpful for my writing. Ending last year/starting this year with moving house and having surgery have knocked me off my game a bit, but I’m determined to pick back up and get back to writing more essays.

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  4. What a beautiful piece. It’s so true about healing being such a humbling journey – I had never thought about how intimate physical therapy can be. There are such wonderful life lessons in here!

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    1. Thank you, Morgan. Having had so many surgeries in the last few years, I’ve had LOTS of time to think about PT. It’s been an interesting learning and healing experience.

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  5. luckygurl

    Hmm… you’ve got me thinking about “healing” in its various forms and all it requires. Vulnerability, being willing to break something down in order to build it back up… And committing to the process “like for real.” Thank you for this.

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  6. This is so true! I just finished a couple of months with a physical therapist, and your description is perfect. The whole time I was reading, I was thinking, YES! Exactly!! Can’t wait to read more!

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  7. The laying of hands, really is such a personal thing, especially as the one being touched. We spend our lives creating, maintaining our personal space, where physical therapy by its nature has almost no concept of such to work properly. I love that you called it “laying of hands’ for it is an anointment, a form of balm through the pain.

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