My essay below was published in Terror House Magazine.
Simultaneous Sessions MAY 27, 2022 |LITERARY NONFICTION |BY NANCY DAVIDOFF KELTON
My husband, Jonathan, and I have two heating pads. He uses one for a pinched nerve in his neck. I use the other on my left leg and buttocks for my sciatica. Some nights we use them at the same time when we get into bed.
We have one physical therapist. Sarah. She works at a facility a block from our apartment next to a doggy daycare. A sign in the window says, “Please don’t tap on the glass. It alarms our pups.”
Jonathan and I have had simultaneous sessions with Sarah. We talk. No. I talk, like I do at home. I talk louder when we use machines and are not on adjacent tables. I remind him what we need at the supermarket, ask what he would like for dinner, then share my preference and at which restaurant.
Two physical therapists treated me before Sarah did. Not well. The first worked at a crowded, chaotic facility. He scheduled three other patients at the same time, who were all around the room, and he paid little or no attention to any of us, but rather to other physical therapists who also had multiple patients whom they ignored. The facility looked like a Marx Brothers movie with no humor or harp. My second therapist poked and jabbed my good side. I acquired more pain and a new set of problems which I work on with Sarah.
When Jonathan and I met 14 years ago, I was 60. He was only 59. We got married two years later, and we each had an internist, a psychotherapist, and a few specialists, who were around our age. Before that, we had older doctors. Before that, our doctors were our parents’ contemporaries and older.
Eight years ago, I had a piercing headache for several days. My neurologist, Dr. M., said it was occipital neuralgia, not a brain tumor or stroke, and had me get an MRI to be sure. When I called his office years later with a flare-up, the secretary told me Dr. M. died from cancer and his son took over his practice. Young Dr. M. did tests in his office, said it was occipital neuralgia, and sent me for an MRI to be sure it was nothing more. He saw me when I got sciatica, told me to get an epidural, and then have physical therapy.
My pain management doctor and Sarah, like Young Dr. M., are less than half my age.
Changes. Losses. With everyone. All the time. My two closest friends, my college roommate and a friend since seventh grade, both died from cancer. I used to talk to them about everything. Now I talk to their photos, which I keep near me, and to my closest living friend. She and I don’t walk or eat together as often as we once did. She is undergoing rigorous chemotherapy for her cancer.
My husband’s pinched neck nerve has become more painful when he turns his head left. I suggested he turn it right. His neck doctor suggested he get an epidural. The pain management doctor, who will do the procedure, is less than half his age.
Jonathan is taking a break from physical therapy. I see Sarah every other week. My sciatica and the pain my second physical therapist caused are better.
I talk with other patients. A man, who told me he is 77, and is being treated for his hip that was not replaced, asked if I would like to continue our conversations without machines and weights, over lunch. I wondered if he was trying to pick me up with the way I look and stretch. It has been a while. When I told two widowed friends, my age, that my physical therapy center might be a good place to meet people, one said she was sorry her meniscus had healed. The other said she might consider having a concussion. A woman doing the same bent knee fallouts I was doing kept stopping. “It’s tiring me out,” she said. “Compared to me, you’re doing a marathon.”
I do fallouts at home. Daily. They have gotten easier.
I appreciate being seen. By the woman and by the man. We can all use validation. At every age.
I do not know if my husband’s neck will stop hurting after the procedure or if he will resume physical therapy.
We are grateful and giddy we have had simultaneous sessions. We have not alarmed the pups.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton Nancy Davidoff Kelton has been teaching at the New School and elsewhere forever and writing books and essays even longer. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, Next Avenue, McSweeney’s and elsewhere. Her seven books include Writing from Personal Experience and a memoir Finding Mr. Rightstein from which she adapted a play with the same title. Her six most recent Next Avenue essays can be found here. The New Yorker piece on her Strand Bookstore writing workshops is here. Her website has selected essays. www.nancykelton.com/