I was given an appointment the day after my stitches were out for therapy, so off to TOC Huntsville we went. I’d always heard how painful therapy was but knew it was in my cards. I met therapist Nicole Yates and her assistant Jessica Moore, and the work began. The first thing they asked me to do was to take a rope with two handles that was connected to a pulley and pull my right arm over my head. Since shattering the right elbow I had kept it gingerly at the 90 degree position for three weeks. I thought, “What the #$@!, if it falls off Dr. Griffin’s office is only one floor up on the elevator.” Much to my surprise it stayed attached, although it made some really cool noises on the way up, like a guitar amp going bad. The pulling and tugging on my wrist and elbow was excruciating, but I cheated. When that started I would focus on a really hard piece, like prelude from Bach’s BWV 998 or the Allegro Solemne from La Catedral by Barrios and play them in my head. That way they could push me further until I reached my limit. I overheard them bragging on me at one point. “Oh yeah, Phil’s great, you can do anything you want to him and he just sits there.”
I did my bit to make the process bearable. One day I told Jessica there was a YouTube of me she could see to get an idea of what I did, I showed her the Piazzolla Milonga del Angel video. She had to look away from it fairly quickly, since it’s me with sword-swallower Brittney Blades, and the transition from daggers to swords to really long swords is hard to take for some people. Some of my colleagues at UAH can’t watch it through.
At one point my task was to push a ball up a wall and I asked if it mattered what color the ball was. “No.” (eye roll) Then when I was on a machine to develop dexterity I asked if I’d get an electric shock if I did it wrong. She was on to me by this time and said “No, but it would be nice if it did.” Nicole was applying ultrasound one day when I inquired about the sound wave’s origins, was it based on country music. She said no and I said “Good, I don’t really like country music.” Then I get the “Is he for real?” look. I try to pretend it was a serious query, but she wasn’t buying it.
Guitar practice was considered excellent therapy and I did it as best I could but the process was excruciating. Adding 5 minute increments to practice sessions, trying to push the range of the shattered erector set elbow, cutting back on pain meds so I could play without the hydrocodone haze then chomping the full dose once it was over, and trying to be positive about this @!#. And the homework from therapy. Long lists of exercises to go through several times a day under Ingrid’s watchful eye. At one point we got the bill from the hospital, $65,000. @##$%^&*&^%! Insurance covered the majority of that, but it was nice to know I was the man with the golden arm. (sorry Sinatra) Ingrid made sure we got our money’s worth.
As my playing ability gradually increased I decided to honor a commitment to WLRH, a house concert I had donated to the fund drive a few weeks ago. Being the idiot I am, I went off pain meds and worked up a 45 minute set I could pull off. I called the patron and explained my wife would be driving me and sorry about the nasty scars, but would that be ok? We went out to his house and it went great, but I couldn’t even carry my guitar, I know I must have looked really silly sitting there and having the Ramirez handed to me. But five weeks after the accident I played a @#$$%&!!!! concert. And it was great to go home and take some percoset to stop the throbbing in my wrist and elbow.