Little did I know that on Christmas Day of 2017, I would get a gift that would change my life forever. I was sitting on the couch at my dad’s house after our holiday meal, checking emails on my phone, as I periodically do throughout the day. We were celebrating our first Christmas with my baby niece, Alexa, and I got an email from my dear friend Muriel. She shared with me that the world renowned bird photographer, Arthur Morris, had asked her how she had avoided knee replacement surgery and she mentioned my name. He wanted to speak with me to see if I could help him. Without hesitation, I gave her permission to give him my contact info. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from my future patient, friend and boss. He was eager to speak with me so I wrote to him and within minutes, we were chatting on the phone about how I use breathing and balloons to take away pain in the body. I’m always hesitant explaining what I do to new people because it’s often labeled as too alternative, even though I can explain the science behind it. Artie was very open to alternative healthcare practices, especially if it helped him avoid the dreaded scalpel. He explained that he had some upcoming trips and wanted to come visit in March. I readily agreed that I would be happy to help him and sent him the clinic info where I practiced physical therapy. By the next day, he had decided to change his plans and come at the beginning of January for 8 sessions, 3 during the first week and 5 the next. I expressed to him that if he wanted to get better, he had to follow my directions exactly. He agreed and showed up a week later.
When I met Artie in person in my clinic, I couldn’t help but smile. Here before me was an older gentleman with a slightly bent posture walking on his toes in SOCKS! He had his laptop bag and was excited to tell me about the water birds he saw and photographed that morning at the Water Ranch at Gilbert Riparian Preserve. My ultimate passion is photography so I readily listened. He paused for a second to explain the lack of shoes and how he didn’t want to track mud into the clinic— very respectful. I proceeded to treat him for an hour over the next 3 days and Muriel arranged for the two of us to join Artie photographing at the preserve on Sunday. I was beyond excited to photograph with such a legend. Ever the teacher, Artie called out settings based on the light of each scene and I tried to keep up. Having become a volunteer for AHPS just two years prior and having helped with photo 101 as my first photography lesson in January 2016, I was a bit overwhelmed by what Artie was saying. Most of it went over my head but I knew basic settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The day was spectacular. Artie was already feeling a change in his body and questioned me if it was the treatment. He was afraid that the relief he was feeling was a coincidence. I told him it was the treatment. He continued to improve during the next 5 days of treatment and left feeling like a new person. His knee pain was minimal and fleeting, his low back pain resolved, his hip pain decreased to allow him to sit twice as long and he was beginning to squat again. He had trips for the next two months but decided to come back to AZ in March.
When March showed up, Artie brought his good friend Anita with him. On day 1 in the clinic, he teased that he and Anita were going to hire me to treat them for a year and travel with them. Jokingly, I said “Yes, let’s go!” He said he was serious and I smiled, hoping there was one bit of truth in his words but knowing deep down that it was impossible. I joined Artie and Anita that following weekend for some more photography at the Riparian Preserve. Artie mentioned again that he would like to hire me but didn’t think it would work out because it was too expensive. I didn’t push it, but I let him know that I was interested. He told me that he was going to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands and didn’t think there was an opening on those trips, let alone the prohibitive costs of taking me along. I treated them for 5 more days, and at the end, I asked Artie if my joining him was possible. He said “Absolutely not, too expensive.” I understood completely and that dream left my mind. Artie left that day feeling better than he had in 30 years, his words exactly. He could walk with a heel strike, sit with his knees together comfortably, move without knee pain, move his shoulders without pain and sit for 30 minutes without issue. He returned home that next day happy and eager to resume his life.
Later that Saturday evening, I received a phone called from Artie that set everything in motion. He had gone for a swim in his pool when he arrived home, and when he got out of the pool, he walked into his house wet and left some wet clothes on the floor. He slipped on the water and fell hard on his left shoulder. He heard a pop and had immediate pain. He said he tried lifting his arm overhead initially and could do it but didn’t try again due to pain. I gave him instructions to ice it but to keep it gently moving because I knew it was going to stiffen up and he would begin to guard his arm protectively. The next two weeks were filled with daily emails, phone calls and FaceTime chats as he had various tests and recommendations from all his healthcare friends. He didn’t have a fracture but a tear was possible, especially after seeing a bruise in his lower biceps. I didn’t think he had a full thickness rotator cuff tear because he could lift his arm just above 90 degrees and resist pressure applied in a downward fashion. I suspected biceps tendon involvement but I also knew that he was not moving his shoulder correctly because of a protective response so I couldn’t be sure of a tear or what type, especially since I couldn’t test him in person. At one point, I kiddingly sent him an email that he should just hire me as he had initially suggested. He responded in agreement and called shortly thereafter to say that it was impossible. Later that morning, I got an email from him that was addressed to Cheesemans Ecological Safaris asking if there was an opening for a female for the Emperor Penguin trip to Antarctica. I was shocked. He was seriously looking into it! We talked over that week and he decided a couple days later to come out to Arizona for a week to have me take a look at his shoulder and work on it. He got notice that Cheesemans had an opening for a female to Antarctica, but he could not get me into the Falklands trip in December/January. That would mean 3 weeks without my services, but he was still interested in coming up with a plan to hire me. I didn’t really think it would work out.
Artie arrived at the beginning of April and scheduled an MRI for the day after his arrival. When I saw Artie for his first treatment, I knew it was going to be hard. His protective response was so strong and his fear of further damage or injury to his shoulder was high. He wasn’t sleeping due to pain at night but at least he could photograph. At the end of the week, I received the results of his MRI which reported a full thickness rotator cuff tear with a 3.2 cm supraspinatus tendon retraction and biceps tendon pulley tear. We were both devastated and he quickly decided to have surgery. He thought about where he would have it and decided it would be best to go back to Florida for it. I mentioned that he was moving better than what would be expected if the MRI was correct and that I had rehabbed people back to full motion with MRI reports like this. He called his physician friend Dr. Cliff Oliver, who strongly advised against surgery. I explained the recovery after surgery in an abduction brace for at least 6 weeks and Artie decided with Cliff’s advise to forgo surgery and use conservative measures. When I was done with my shift, we met to discuss his thoughts. We went over my typical monthly expenses and he offered to hire me for a year to travel with him and Anita and stay in his home to treat him daily to keep him as pain free as possible. I would need to rent out my house and move to Florida within 5 weeks. He would pay my basic living expenses and I would get to join him photographing daily and on all his trips. That day, he got a cancellation for the Falkland Islands trip, so that was part of the deal too. When he finally gave me an offer, I saw my hand shoot out and shake his hand even before I had a chance to process it all. He is a man of the hand shake. It was said and done. He was ecstatic. I was terrified, in shock, excited and nervous. We went out to celebrate and I was still in shock. I checked with a friend to see if she could rent out my house and all the stars aligned…she said Yes! The weekend was filled with figuring out how to draw up contracts and getting them signed as well as treating Artie and photographing with him. The icing on the cake was two days later when Artie prepared to leave for Florida. I had just finished working on him for an hour and when he stood up, he showed me he could reach fully overhead with his elbow straight…a feat that shouldn’t be possible based on the MRI results.
The next several weeks were filled with preparations and saying goodbyes. I didn’t realize the extent of love and care I had from so many people, patients and friends. Despite the excitement, I couldn’t help but feel sadness knowing that my life was changing forever. I would miss my friends and the life I had carved out, but I knew that I had been stagnating and was looking for a change. This was it and I had to jump.
And so begins my Year with Artie….