As a fourth year medical student, I took an elective in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. I also have a niece whose husband is a physical therapist, and a number of my friends are likewise. I have also undergone three knee surgeries, so my exposure to the rehab field is fairly extensive. But as in most instances, one’s attitudes towards most things are molded from early on and my perception of what constitutes proper rehabilitation dates from an incident from my early years.
I would preface this account with a disclaimer- though my father is a physician, most of what passed for medical care in our home growing up was surprisingly (or not) made up of a cursory exam to see if life or limb was endangered, and if not, we were sent on our way. I will say that when one of us thirteen children had sustained significant trauma or a serious illness, Dad was there with a timely suture (albeit with the surgery performed on the kitchen table) or an I.V. pole set up in the living room (for my immediate younger brother, who, it must be stated, still gets woozy just looking at a merry-go-round) for a gastrointestinal bug that got out of hand. I also must admit under duress from my lovely wife that my triage
interaction with my own kids has been of a similar variety; not a lot of time was spent nurturing a boo boo. If they could walk and talk without too much blood loss, they were generally good to go.
We raised cattle on our farm, an enterprise that lent itself to many different projects (calling them chores would make these seem so…so mundane), not the least of these was building and fixing fence. Poor fences led to the cows getting out, going down into the San Pedro River, and climbing out into someone else’s pasture which usually would generate a phone call to our house which in turn would lead to our tromping off to gather the cattle-which typically led to a lot of mumbling and cursing under our collective breaths. Most of our venom was directed at the erstwhile free-range bovines, when it probably should have been targeted at ourselves, since we were the ones who had built the shoddy fences in the first place. I’m sure our dad had no problem figuring out where to lay the blame.
Granted, we were relatively young when we first started building fence, and by the time I was in sixth grade and my older brother in eighth, he was in charge of quite a motley crew of fence builders that consisted of me and probably two or three other younger brothers. The youngest of these brothers will claim that he was an integral part of the team, but as he was only six or seven at this stage in the enterprise, he likely was just assigned to place the clips along the fence posts that we used to tie up the barbed wire. Either that or he spent the time drinking all our lemonade. At any rate, fence building was quite the big deal; it kept us busy with its seemingly never-ending construction and it kept the cattle busy working at ways to countermand our efforts.
And so it was that my older brother broke his ankle wrestling.
Imagine the monkey wrench this threw into the gears of such a smooth fence-building operation. Cattle would be roaming all over the San Pedro Valley with our brand affixed to their backsides and advertising for all to see whose farm had the lamest fence constructionists; we would surely be the laughingstock of all the farms along Airport Road. We needed older brother to run this crew; pounding fence posts required some modicum of skill, but it mostly required someone with the brawn necessary to hoist a fifty pound post-pounder above his head and over the post and give it repeated whacks until the post is subdued and pounded into approximately two feet of the terra (really) firma of our dad’s farmstead. As I said, I was only 12 or so and the prospect of pounding all those posts was not the first item on my to-do list that winter.
Sometimes events in our lives line up just the way we would have them and so it was in mine. Given my father’s predilection for eschewing unnecessary convalescence or rehabilitation (or perhaps believing that his prescription was better than anything a physical therapist could offer), my brother ventured out after a few days of recuperation with his ankle to knee cast intact, awkwardly wielding his crutches from one post pounding to the next. We younger siblings gratefully hauled the pounder for him from post to post and solemnly held the post for him to resume pounding every six paces or so. We weren’t going to mess up a really good thing by suggesting to Dad that perhaps it might be better if brother were allowed to recover back in the house, leg propped up with a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand, undoubtedly surrounded by a number of fawning sisters.
And so that fence was finished.
I suppose my brother’s ankle healed nicely. I assume to this day that he has full range of motion in the ankle. I can’t detect any discernible limp. I'd like to think that the cattle were chagrined at the fact that yet another expanse of fence was built in time to thwart any further exit strategies. Though I’m sure they managed to find a way out a few weeks later anyway.