Sunday, 22 July 2012

Truth Written In Sinew and Bone

I'm not one of the first people you would have expected to have survived the outbreak.

I'm not an athlete or a doctor or a soldier or a survivalist or even a gamer who has spent enough time joking about these things to have some practical plans or skills laid by.

I'm a physiotherapist.

I have a BAppSci (Physio), a PGDipRehabStudies and an MSport Physio.

Try telling anyone that these days and having them care.

Before all this happened I spent my life dealing with sports injuries, lifestyle injuries and people with physical disabilities or congenital conditions that meant that moving normally had never been an option, at least not without help and coaching.

So when things went crazy it was just a combination of luck and being a running enthusiast that kept me alive long enough to work out what was going on and then long enough after that to really believe it.

After that... Well, my skills have come in surprisingly handy in trading with other survivors. You wouldn't believe the amount of people who are willing to feed you if you can help fix their bung knee or ease their wrenched back and increase their chances of living past the next dicey situation.

It's not easy though, treating people in this new landscape.

Things I would usually have been able to spend months correcting slowly and advocating rest periods and gentle exercise for, I either have to push through in a matter of days or leave as they are, instead giving the patients a few tricks to help alleviate the symptoms and some exercises that will hopefully strengthen and correct muscle movement or skeletal alignment over time. If they live long enough and have the luxury to perform them.

Unless they're part of a collective which is willing and strong enough to feed and fend for the person recovering for long enough to get things right, the quick fix is the only fix that wouldn't actually be a death sentence.

By doing this I know I'm ensuring that they're going to have problems in the long run, but if I treat them properly then they'll be too sore or weakened to survive the short term.

It hurts my professional pride to send them out into the world knowing that they're going to carry these burdens for the rest of their lives but there isn't much room for pride these days, at least not as a practitioner.

The other way my training has come in handy is almost too bizarre but thinking back, I think it's the only reason I've made it this far.

I know the undead don't feel pain. They can keep coming at you with broken bones, trailing organs, gaping head wounds and all the rest but you'd be surprised by how much who they were in life still shows in how they move now. And how helpful that can be.

You're hiding in an alley, peeking out to see if it's safe to dash across the road to your next patch of shelter or to wherever you're going foraging for supplies, and you see what's left of a woman lurching and swaying down the street.
She's barely clothed, certainly not wearing shoes and from what's left of her muscle tone you'd be justified in guessing she's in good physical shape and could probably move fast enough to be a serious danger to you.
If you didn't know what to look for.
Despite her immunity to pain and fatigue... Well, in layman's terms, 20 odd years of wearing high heels have shortened her calf muscles and tendons to a point where it's amazing that she's able to walk in this state. Without the agility and compensatory balance she could have mustered in life, this one can only move so fast without face-planting, giving you plenty of time to cross the distance.

More than once when being pursued I've heard tendons or ligaments pop when put under strain they don't have the integrity or strength to endure, leaving their former owners partially immobilised but no less hungry.

I never thought the day would come that I would be grateful for the prevalence of poor posture and sedentary lifestyles that affected our country.

Being able to spot long-time back injury sufferers, those who have scoliosis, those with recurring sports injuries, those with slipped or compressed discs means survival.
It means knowing which parts of a group to dodge around, which ones could be used as shields from the others who were faster and stronger, giving you long enough to get away after they've collided with each other.
It also means being able to see that one good blow to a knee or a hip could leave one of them broken enough to let you get away or time enough to end them for good.
You have no idea how hard it is as a health professional to swing that bat the first time, aiming for a weakness that all your instincts have been trained to protect but what choice do I have?

And seeing someone walk, someone who in life would never have been able to take a single step due to the pain that would cause them...
It's a miracle so terrible that the first time I saw it I threw up until I burst a blood vessel in my eye.

I think my lowest point came when I'd been alone for a few weeks and I came across what used to be a young girl, maybe 15.
She'd obviously liked sports in life but I could see that her core muscles weren't engaging which was making her slower and weaker than you'd expect someone of her age to be.
I'd been scavenging some firewood when she found me and of course I started to run away.
She followed me, naturally.
And I started - God I feel so stupid - I started running in a zig zag pattern, just slow enough to get her to change direction with me.
I did this every day for two weeks, telling myself I was just going back for more firewood and tinned goods.
Then I started leading her underneath fallen branches or the hoods of flipped cars that had come to rest on other crashed cars, getting her to crouch and bend.
Over and over again.
And it worked, it had an effect, every day she got a little stronger, her movements a little smoother, and I was so proud of myself!
Until she almost caught me.
I still have the shirt with the hole in the sleeve. Thank Christ for quick reflexes.

A lot of survivors talk about the 'make or break point'.
The point where you finally realise what is going on, all the veils fall away and you look it straight in the face.
You could have kept yourself alive and healthy for MONTHS, have your 'make or break point' sprung on you, and it's anyone's guess as to whether you'll pull yourself together and move on or just fall apart.
That was mine.

I am not a healer any more. I can't be.
My skills are now a commodity, not a calling.
And unless the cavalry comes roaring over the hill one day, that's the way things are going to stay.

I'm not sure how much longer my luck is going to hold out, how long I'll be able to find food and dodge swarms, but whilst I can I'm going to make the most of it.

Enjoy what joys life still has to offer while I can bring myself to see them, do the good I still can, and just keep breathing.

I hope you do too, whoever you are.

And for the love of all that is holy, take care of your knees.


Erin Palette said...

Wow! Not only well-written, but engaging from a viewpoint I've never considered before.

Where did get your crazy knowledge of sports medicine, Ric?

Ricochet said...

Thanks Erin :-)

Some comes from random documentaries and articles and some from the few times I've hurt myself and have gone to see a physiotherapist or myotherapist.
Luckily I've never hurt myself too badly but when discussing my injury with the physio, I ask questions, which lead to other questions and on to other questions...
I'm curious :-)