Bill's Gift

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.

Only when we learn to put up with ourselves can we arrive at a place of interior peace.
                              Thomas Moore

          Bill was born two years before the Titanic went down, and now his left hip hurts him.

          His orthopaedist tells me that his x-rays showed some degeneration, but he's seen people like this get better in my care before, so he suggested to Bill that he "try some therapy with Barrett."

          It took him a while to fill out his information form and when I first saw the birth date I thought he must have misprinted it. He doesn't look a day over eighty.

          What I found most striking at first was his complete openness to my care. He listened intently with a smile on his face that I found very calming and encouraging. He was far more agile than many of the people I see, but I wouldn't say that he moved without care, he just moved without fear. It became clear that his primary reaction to treatment would be acceptance. He responded to my handling in a corrective manner, and volunteered that his hip was improved. His smile grew even larger and I felt somehow lifted, my sense of myself as a therapist affirmed in every way. Fortunately, Bill's discomfort seems not only related to his permanent degeneration but also to an easily reversed pattern of use. This use would have bothered anybody eventually. I don't know when it started in Bill. I'm only sure it was sometime during the last eight-eight years.

          I've seen Bill a couple more times as he has experienced some mild recurrences of his original complaint. His demeanor is unchanged and he continues to have complete faith in my care. I notice now that he seems a bit confused, answering the questions I'd asked my secretary in the next room and kind of wandering out the door instead of making another appointment as agreed. I shake my head when I watch him drive away.

          I don't know at this point whether or not Bill will finally remain improved enough to let go of therapy. The circumstances of his being make a home program difficult to prescribe effectively, and I'm counting on what I can do a half hour at a time in my office to resolve this.

          What is especially unusual about Bill is something I don't see. He doesn't seem to suffer, but only to hurt. By this I mean that his manner and voice and facial expression indicate nothing other than serenity and good will. If this were a worker's comp claim, most of us would be wondering why this man wasn't back on the job.

          The qualities that seem to emanate from this man are difficult to define, and, in my experience, rarely seen in my younger patients. The absolute absence of malice, the fearlessness, and the tranquility of his being add up to something that actually changes me when I handle him, and I find myself trying to hang on to this sensation after he leaves. Perhaps this writing will help me grasp it more firmly.

          I'm hoping that Bill's effect on me will exceed what I might be able to do for him.