When Others Have Short-Term Physical Limitations

When Others Have Short-Term Physical Limitations


Recently, my husband suffered a pulled muscle after doing some heavy yard work. He already has back issues from a work-related injury in 1993. In lieu of surgery, he dedicated six years to physical therapy to restore some of his previous functioning.

We actually met in the physical therapy office after I sustained a neck injury in a motor vehicle accident. At the time, he had just resumed work on a part-time basis while continuing tri-weekly therapy for a couple more years. This is not to say he doesn’t still experience pain or problems, it just doesn’t require seeing a specialist, for he knows the steps to take if a flare occurs (ice, electrical stimulation, rest).

On this particular day, he pulled a different muscle. Initially, after some rest, ice, and NSAID (a painkiller), he felt better. However, the following morning he was met with uncontrollable spasms when he tried to get up. He realized that, after many years, he would need to see a professional once again. Naturally, I was concerned and wanted him to feel better, but since I was familiar with this issue, I was not distressed. He, on the other hand, was upset.

He became frustrated that he couldn’t bend down and pick up a dropped item, or couldn’t reach around to get the seat belt. Thinking back, I can imagine that my having to put on his socks and shoes was even more disconcerting. Still, I was surprised at the level of impatience and frustration he felt. After all, this would only require a handful of visits, and he was still ambulatory. Just two years ago, he had sustained a hairline fracture to his ankle that was much more debilitating.

I was also reminded that, while we share a basic understanding of our chronic pain conditions, there are still many differences.

Not long ago, a dear friend, for whom I was a school aide while I was a senior, had to undergo knee replacement surgery. While she knew this was inevitable, the surgeon made the decision earlier than originally anticipated. She is in her early 70s, and before this happened was very independent and quite active. Now, she has been wheelchair-bound for close to two months. Her beloved dog is living with her daughter since her basic needs are still a cumbersome task alone, impossible to add a bouncy pup. She expressed anger and frustration that masked the underlying covert feelings of helplessness and fear at having to rely on others.

As with her, too, I was surprised with the level of angst expressed. While my limitations were gradual, only to be exacerbated by a major flare in 2009, I have now lived for over two decades with some degree of physical constraint. While the onslaught of major limitations was met head-on with much resistance, I do not know if I reacted in quite the same way. In terms of my reaction to their feelings, I know my initial reaction differs than what it would have been at the earlier stages of my own illness. Years ago, while I would have still empathized, my initial thought would have been, “Welcome to my world.” Today, my reactions have a deeper level of empathy without a thought to how this relates to my own health.

Each person’s experience differs, even those with the same illness or condition. Compassion is the key, for even though we may not fully understand, our ability to listen and offer care is universal. We have all experienced some level of negative response and lack of support due to another’s ignorance or lack of compassion. We want that from others, and may forget that others experiencing a sudden limitation may need it just as much.

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4 comments

  1. StevefromMA says:

    Most people don’t understand the difference between acute pain or disability and chronic pain. If you know something is time-limited, you can make it through almost anything.

    Hopefully I would have your response also.

    • Lori Galpeer says:

      True if it is short-term you feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel; however, like in the case of my husband, some injuries lead to a chronic condition that may not flare often but still is an area of the body forever altered.

  2. Katherine A Johnson says:

    While chronic pain includes a level of suffering that’s different from acute pain, pain is pain. If we choose to, our chronic pain can make us more compassionate to others experiencing pain whether it be chronic or acute. But first, as the article said, we have to quit thinking about everything as it relates to us. We must not compare and contrast, because that’s ultimately self defeating and self indulgent. It keeps us from putting our experience to good use in ministering to others. These twenty years of Fibro have taught me a lot about life, my faith, etc. Maybe wisdom gained on this road could encourage others, but only if I take my eyes off myself and my situation. Passing on my experience and encouraging others kind of “redeems” it for me, and changes how I receive and process my struggles.

    • Lori Galpeer says:

      Nicely said, Katherine! I, too, like to think my twenty-one years with this illness has provided me some degree of compassion and definitely provides a level of wisdom that (don’t you wish) we were not part of the special group. I know that my friends consider all of us with FMS as strong-willed people who shouldn’t have to live like this.

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