★ An Unusual Amount of Pain

My osteopath is a short, pretty woman who maintains a stream of inconsequential conversation as she does things to my body that recall almost-forgotten aikido and ju-jitsu moves. Last Thursday, when she extended my arm and moved it in a windmilling motion, I almost followed through with a forward roll into the changing screen.

One of the muscles in my shoulder has been torn. Not in a knife fight, or reaching to pull a toddler back from a cliff’s edge. No; I wore a heavy rucksack for a bit. My girlfriend – who has been visiting a private osteopath for a few months – poked vulturishly at my arm and announced, not without triumph, that the only thing was for me to see an osteopath; her osteopath.

“But it only hurts when I salute. I read the Guardian; I don’t salute.” Manly pause, looking into the middle distance. “I’ll do this my way.”

I resolved to visit the (frankly ineffectual) NHS physiotherapist who had helped me with a running-induced hip injury last year. Unfortunately, this meant talking to my GP first. After three days of calling the surgery just after 8 a.m. to arrange an appointment – each request met by a chuckle and a statement that all the appointments were gone for the day, and that perhaps I should consider calling in one of the other quantum interstices between 8:00:00 a.m. and 8:00:01 a.m., which are infinite after all – I drew a chunk of cash from the Morrison’s ATM and booked an appointment with my girlfriend’s osteopath.

So here I am.

Her upside-down head moves into my visual field and she says, “You’ll have to tell me when it hurts.”

“Really? You think I should verbalise? I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right, though, it’s the perfect solution to my body-wide, dribble-inducing torment,” is what I never, ever say because it is indeed the case that I find it impossible to admit that primordial pain signals are petitioning my brain, thusly:

‘Excuse me,’ says my arm (which is English), ‘but I’m about to break.’

‘Pipe down,’ replies my brain, ‘it’s important to uphold pointless social norms.’

Arm: ‘But we’re lying here on this table in Ian’s special ‘going out’ underwear and odd socks. I think that social norms have gone by the wayside.’

Brain: ‘It’s not your job to think. Now, she’s about to grind the shoulder socket like a millstone. Stay frosty and alert.’

Stiff upper lip: ‘Hear, hear.’

My osteopath is utterly professional, and I cling to the knowledge of her long years of training as my body creaks, snaps, squeaks and shudders. I fantasise a peculiar analogue of esprit d’escalier in which I walk into a wardrobe at home and shriek into the towels.

Occasionally – when the man tears grow at the corner of my eyes and the massage table has gained a perfect record of my incisors – I’ll say, “Ooh, that’s really loosened the muscle,” going falsetto on the word ‘really’ and dilating my pupils independently.

“Yeah? Let’s work on this muscle for a bit.”

I go rigid with fear.

“Wow,” she says, “there’s still some tension in this one.”

“Gah.”

“OK, lie on your back for me and cross your arms. I think you’ll need some hot and cold treatment on the muscle for the next few days.”

“No pain, no gain,” I say, one of the few sentences whose syntax is within my brain’s grasp.

The osteopath leans across me.

“Now, don’t worry.”

I begin to worry.

Her upside-down face smiles and she lies across my folded arms.

“I’m going to keep one foot on the floor.”

As the osteopath bounces lightly up and down, like a darts player rehearsing a treble-twenty, the air leaving my lungs gets rather more pressurised than I’d like, adding occasional Tourettish volume to my words: “What does the FLOOR have to DO with iii-IT?”

Suddenly, she drops her weight through my chest. A sound comes from my back that reminds me of a door hinge being ripped from a frame. A warm feeling spreads down my body. Have I wet myself? I panic: What are the social rules in such a situation?

“Yes,” she says, as though continuing a thought, “you’ve been through an unusual amount of pain.”

I haven’t wet myself – that can come later, on the cycle ride home.

“Hot and cold treatment?” I croak.

“Yes, and I’ll definitely need to see you next week. OK?”

While my Id and Ego start slapping and poking each other in the race to gain control of my mouth, the Super Ego steps in and says, “That would be lovely!”

On the way out, I – or rather the piece of jelly shaped like me – give the secretary a weak salute.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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