Physical Therapist or Pilates Teacher Part 1

After thirty years of horseback riding, yoga, karate, jumping out of airplanes, shooting guns, walking across hot coals, hiking the Himalayas and masteringPilates, I was ready for something else. At a party, I met a performer-turned-coach from the Ice Capades, the daughter-in-law of Red McCarthy, a famous stunt skater from the 1940’s who, while performing barrel jumps, slipped and sliced his spine open with his skate blade. He was sent seventy years ago, coincidently, to JoePilateswho rehabilitated him “on this moving table.” She went on to tell me how it became his passion and it changed his life.

 My new passion was private figure skating lessons and the more I was on the ice, the more off the ice I trained, recognizing historicalPilatesexercises for ice skaters  such as the One-leg Arabesque variations for strength and balance as Spirals, the Advanced Side-Arms for Men on the Reformer as building their ability to lift their partners, the Spread Eagle,the name same as in ice skating, and other identical techniques but withPilatesnames, like  the One-legged Russian Squats, the Front Splits on the Reformer, the stretches on the Ladder Barrel… all that JoePilatesdeveloped in the 1940’s for performers and Olympic ice skaters.

ThePilatesMethod would heed me well when unheeding the advice of my coach, I skated without her during a competitive practice. It only took a moment when I forgot I was on knives, on ice, too fast, too emotional, too tired, and I fell, breaking my ankle in two places, dislocating my elbow, fracturing the tibia plateau and tearing the “triple” in my knee.

The first week I lay in the hospital bed, iced and elevated, tubes for oxygen and fluids, five different medications, a cast and a brace, torqued, twisted, sore and weepy.

ANew YorkfanaticPilatesteacher,called to say, “With what you know you’ll be up in no time. Just think of Joe in the hospital and what he did!” She was trying to be inspiring but all I heard was her arrogance.

There were only threePilatesexercises I could do: the rightSingle-leg Circle, Single-leg Stretch, and Single-leg Straight, which I did to help prevent blood clots(even though I got shots in my stomach for it.)

 “Joe was not the patient, he was the orderly,” I told her,” and they didn’t give the prisoner mattresses with springs either, they were wood and animal feathers,!” Holding the phone was cutting off my IV, so  I hung up on her.After my accident I also lost all tolerance as well as confidence.

There was no frame of reference of what to do next or what would happen.

The second week the physical therapists arrived to teach me how to hop on one leg, transfer from bed to toilet, and bed to wheelchair or walker, and all my preparation for skating on one leg was used to, now, just balance. They complimented me, when I wasn’t crying,as the strongest person in the hospital. That strength completely leaves you by the third week when they removed the brace from my arm and a German physical therapist started moving and massaging my swollen yellow, blue and purple arm.

 “You must learn how to surrender,” she informed me.” I was still in shock and fear from my accident and wasn’t sure she knew how much that hurt.

 “I know 100% what I am doing,” she smiled.  After a most exquisite ice massage she left the room, turning back by the door,” By the way, you’re not sick, get out of bed.”

It triggered the remembrance of Joe’s words from his obituary, “Depressed? Forget about it! Get to work!”

Was it because she was German like JoePilates, or, was there a connection of physical therapy toPilates?

“Heil!” I saluted her with my good arm.

Getting myself up and into the wheelchair, I sat there. Now what? For hours,watching the large clock on the hospital wall waiting for pain killers or meals or visitors I tried to find my box and  practice breathing, counting and extending the seconds of my inhalations and exhalations.

 Joe’s voice  from Return to Life echoed off my four small walls.


In my long career I have known dozens of licensed  physical therapists that I have trained inPilatesI  could really only say four, flippant sentences to summarize the differences; ‘after surgery you see them, after them you see us,’ ‘they like a locked knee, we like a bent knee,’’they massage you, we move you,’ ‘they use rubber we use steel.’

It would be two surgeries, a lot of metal, a cadaver ligament and six months of physical therapists before I could walk  again, and have a lot clearer perspective, more information, and respect, about their process of rehabilitation.

Continue to Part 2 Physical Therapy or Pilates

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