Taking a stab at it

Casey Punkin 1God has used several medical professionals in my life to be His hands and His voice—my counselor, my doctors, and my physical therapist. I’m thankful for my friend and physical therapist, Casey Bush, who earned my trust over the past year and has brought physical healing to me and reminded me to be patient with myself, to reach out and ask for help, and to be open to new ideas. Casey, this one’s for you :).


“Is that okay?” I asked my friend and physical therapist, Casey Bush, as she twisted my arm behind my back, handcuff style, coaxing my scapula out of its hiding place.

“What do you mean? What does it feel like?”

“Well, it feels like. . .” I took a deep breath before answering. “It feels like nothing. I mean, I really can’t feel anything. It just doesn’t hurt anymore.”

She laughed. “Yep, that’s what we’re going for.”

Having recently earned her certification for dry needling, my physical therapist—who’d also become a trusted friend—was utilizing my upper back and neck to try out her newly honed techniques.

I’m not normally a great crash test dummy for anything, much less an eyebrow-raising, little-known practice. I’m not a crunchy granola girl. I don’t make my own detergent, and I don’t slather oil on my acne in hopes of waking up with clear skin. Sure, I’ve paid for an occasional massage, and I’ve popped a few rounds of probiotics, but aside from that, I stick to pretty traditional, science-based remedies and treatments. Call me chicken, but I like predictability. I like proven methods. Honestly, if I’m spending money, I want to know what I’m paying for, and I want a moderate guarantee of a return on my investment.

So what in the world was I doing lying face down on a massage table with ten dry needles sticking out of my upper back?

I was desperate, that’s what. I was desperate, in pain, and out of options.

I first visited Casey for a physical therapy consultation in March of 2013, five months after the birth of my daughter. After gaining 60 pounds during a pretty horrible pregnancy, and undergoing a harrowing delivery experience that required a slow recovery process, I grew impatient with my body as I realized that due to a number of factors behind my physiological control, I had not recovered much at all, even though I’d lost much of the weight. One of the worst aspects of recovery was chronic back pain. I was a willing patient, and I did all the stretches, exercises, and treatments to the best of my ability, and I saw minor improvements.

As Maggie grew and became more mobile and required more bending, stretching, and lifting on my part, I found that my body was literally unable to keep up. I had to modify my activities to meet her needs, and I felt pathetic. Thankfully, my husband pitched in considerably and lightened my load. Still, the pain never left me; it was a constant annoying companion, like a soggy diaper that immediately soaks itself after changing—mamas will understand what I’m getting at.

Most mornings, I woke up and winced when turning my head, pain shooting down my spine. I stretched out on the heating pad, hoping for relief, even though I knew it wouldn’t do a bit of good. I usually prayed in silence. Ironically, I didn’t pray about anything related to my physical condition. I’m not sure why—I guess I have grown tired of throwing my own pity parties over the years. I just prayed about my day, for God’s will, for the ability to have a good attitude, and for the motivation to get out of bed regardless of my circumstances. Then I sucked it up and got up and went about my day.

Throughout the day, I found ways to make it through. I don’t mean that I took ibuprofen or pain pills all day. I mean that I leaned back on the couch when reading to Maggie, or I rested on the floor and stretched while she built towers of blocks, or I did pelvic tilts and planks while watching her dance. During her naps, if I could sneak away from grading essays or responding to urgent messages, I rested on a heating pad and hoped for relief. I just tried to make it through the day. In addition to the back pain, the muscle tension triggered even more migraines than usual, and while nursing, I was unable to take preventive migraine medication. All day long, my back burned and ached, and about 10-15 days out of the  month, a migraine accompanied the back pain. Sometimes this combination brought me to tears, but mostly it frustrated me, kept me from enjoying my life and accomplishing tasks, and reminded me that despite my efforts to care for myself, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t working.

That desperation and realization—acceptance that what I was doing wasn’t working—is what led me to the point of lying face down on Casey’s massage table with needles sticking out of me. I felt like Po in Kung Fu Panda and wondered if my face would wind up contorted in some silly position. Casey assured me it would not as she gently poked and prodded my muscles for almost an hour as the sun set.

Casey left, and while I felt instant relief, I was hesitant to become too hopeful. I wasn’t sure if the dry needling or the massage had provided more help. I washed dishes, cleaned the kitchen, cuddled Maggie, and headed to bed as usual.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of Maggie calling sweetly and insistently for Daddy.

Perfect, I smirked.

“Sounds like she wants you and not me!” I laughed.

He smiled and agreed to get her up. I turned over in the bed, pulling the plush gray, satin comforter over my shoulders. I yawned and stretched, weighing my options. Should I lie in bed and rest for the next 20 minutes? Should I scurry into the kitchen before Maggie sees me, grab a mug of coffee, and rush back to bed to read and spend some quiet moments with God? Or should I turn the heating pad on and spend a few minutes easing my aching back muscles before I have to—

My back muscles.

Oh my gosh!

I nearly sprinted to the kitchen, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed back to bed with a grin on my face, settling back in bed with my book. Before I opened it, I sat in a near-stupor, fascinated at the lack of pain, amazed at my ability to turn my head from side to side without coming to a single point of pain. I performed a series of stretches which usually made me grimace. I felt nothing but a moderate muscle tension, a feeling that I assumed is what normal people feel when they stretch.

Tears of joy smeared the pages of my book.

I had no idea how much pain I was living with until the pain was removed.

I felt like an old soul in a new body, and I was overcome with gratitude.



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