★ 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 arm and back that recall almost-for­got­ten aikido and ju-jitsu moves…

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.”


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.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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