Stockholm Syndrome

According to experts, the five most painful things in the universe are:

  • Childbirth
  • Kidney stones (no, really)
  • Rounding on medicine
  • Physical therapy
  • Vietnamese bamboo torture.

Number 4 is maybe my own invention.

As you may remember from “Return of the Phalanx,” about seven weeks ago I broke a small bone in my finger playing the world’s stupidest version of the world’s most entertaining and damaging sport, flag football. After my doctor confirmed there wasn’t any tendon damage, she referred me to physical therapy to “regain function.”

“Regain function” is code for “inflict extraordinary pain.”

When a bone heals, it forms a callus that remakes the injured bone as a slightly thicker, stronger version of itself. This is great news for future flag football teams but not-so-great news for the small tendons and ligaments in my finger. Combined with a month of wearing a splint and not using the finger, the ligaments grew tight and restricted my range of motion.

Hence, physical therapy.

I arrived to the PT suite to meet my therapist, a nice young woman named Teresa, for my first appointment two weeks ago. Teresa had me put my hand in a giant bin of melted wax to warm up the tendons, then massaged my finger for ten minutes.

I could get on board with this.

Now, Teresa informed me, it was time to begin “gentle stretching.” She grabbed my hand and made me hold the fingers straight, which hurt by itself. Then she wrapped one hand around the base of my finger, grabbed the tip of it with her other hand, and bent.

I am many things: medical student, World War II enthusiast, pilot, dog owner. “Pain Tolerant” is not one of my defining characteristics. One might even say that I am a “pain bitch,” and while this is a crude statement it happens to be unfortunately, 100% accurate.

Now in agonizing pain, I curled my good hand into a fist and tucked it under my leg to prevent myself from involuntarily punching my nice therapist Teresa right in her nice therapist face.

Over the next thirty minutes, Teresa bent my finger in ten different ways. Sometimes she cranked my hand into a fist. Other times she told me to “make a hook” with my fingers, which forced me to squint my eyes to prevent the tears from flowing down my face.

ISIS should take notes. Beheading people is totally 2015. The next big thing is forcing your hostages to undergo physical therapy at the hands of Teresa. Damascus would fall in 48 hours.

“Is this too painful?” Teresa asked.

There was sweat pouring down the small of my back and I was ready to have someone walk along with a machete and just chop off my hand.

“No,” I said, through gritted teeth.

“I’m not even squeezing that hard, so you should be able to do this on your own,” she said.


When Teresa released my hand it looked like the deformed and undersized hand of Hansen, the butler from Scary Movie 2.


I cradled my tortured hand and hustled down the hallway to the chirping of “See you in two weeks!”

I faithfully abused myself at home, three times a day, for the next two weeks. I bent my hand into the Hook Pose of Death during question sets. I “gently stretched” my ligaments during meetings. I massaged my hand after showers.

When I returned today for my follow up appointment, I got to start my visit with the hot wax and massage again. This formerly glorious activity held no joy for me, knowing what horrific torture comes next.

To my surprise, Teresa got out an honest-to-god compass – like from middle school geometry class – and measured my range of motion.

With disappointment in her voice, Teresa said, “Hey! Your finger looks so much better!”

Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon where hostages begin to identify with and have sympathy for their captors. A huge grin spread across my face. Teresa was proud of me! I did good! Maybe I will not get horribly tortured toda-

“Let’s do some gentle stretches and see how far we get,” Teresa continued brightly.

I felt a panic attack coming on. The pain was merciless.

At the end of the visit, Teresa taught me two “strengthening exercises” to add on to the Gentle Stretching Death Exercises using industrial-strength Silly Putty. For the next two weeks I am to make “the hook” again, but while grasping this putty. Teresa and I practiced this move and I can confidently report that it feels a little bit like someone striking your finger, again and again, with a ball-peen hammer.

To add insult to actual injury, I got a bill today in the mail for $738 from the PT office for “Services Rendered.”

I intend to go to this office with my Silly Putty in hand (get it!?) and do “Strengthening Exercises” all across the desk.

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