Commentary: Patience, hugs help on physical rehab journey

Tom Stafford

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Tom Stafford

At present, the “other woman” in my life is Penny McKean.

Whenever I’m downtown at United Senior Services in Springfield, I stop by her desk to collect a hug.

So far, I haven’t been able to collect $200.

But because Penny seems to have a soft spot for me, when I stop by her desk I intend to start asking for the amount Monopoly provides every time I pass Go.

I’ll continue until she produces a card that instructs me me to go jail, directly to jail, without passing Go and without collecting $200.


Rehab is teaching me the value of rock-headed persistence, the kind I think may be required of anyone who regularly plays what to me is the mind-numbing game of Monopoly.

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For the sake of rumor control, I should clarify that I’m in the midst of physical rehab, not the sort that Amy Winehouse was unable to bring herself to go back before her overdose death many news cycles ago.

For the past two months, I’ve spent a couple of sessions a week in a building across Main Street from Penny’s desk.

Young people occasionally show up on the third floor there for therapy, and when they do, I have to resist the temptation to ask them if they’re dying their hair even if it’s not pink, blue or purple.

The fact is, my deepest worry about rehab is that it exposes therapists trying to stretch out my hamstrings to white nose-hairs that look like outtakes from a “Frozen” movie.

Most of the time, rehab is pretty predictable. It plays out in the area of sensation that resides between boredom and pain.

Too much time on the boredom side, and you don’t make progress.

Too much pain and you have setbacks.

For me, the sweet spot has a specific feeling to it.

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Certainly, the feeling is of a physical nature, but it resides more in my head than healing knee.

It comes at the end of the final repetition of my final exercise, when my mind’s capacity to focus has redlined. At that moment, I close my eyes, take a deep, cleansing breath, feeling totally spent and tired.

And I try to not to think about having to do it all again tomorrow.

Tuesday, after therapy had finished and I had collected my hug, I was making the steady, slow walk of a mile or so up the steady incline of Fountain Avenue when a thought came to me: That I’d like to pass along my best wishes to those undergoing another kind of rehab - the one Amy Winehouse was unable to complete.

The rehab that involves physical cravings.

The one that so often requires multiple attempts.

I don’t know it intimately, but I assume it also involves moments when patience has been consumed, there comes a feeling of being tired and spent, and the pressing goal is to find a blessed moment of peace I strain to achieve with a deep, cleansing breath.

As I recall, it also involves taking one day at a time.

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At 65, my goal in physical therapy is to learn all that I can from my therapists about what I can do to physically be more prepared for the next 10 or 15 years of my life and to live it as fully as possible.

My hope is the same for all of you in the other kind of rehab.

My only useful recommendation may be that you collect as many hugs as you can along the way.

But you’d best leave my Penny alone.

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