It wasn’t until after a few sessions that I realized the impact that Olga Hincape would have on my life. Olga was my physical therapist that had moved to America from Bogota, Colombia about ten years back. She specialized in hand therapy and she worked with me for about a year and half on what would seemed like an endless journey to get three fingers on my left hand to function again.
In 2011, I had done terrible damage to three of my fingers. I remember lying on the floor with an indescribable pain in my hand; I had accidentally held onto a sharp piece of metal to keep my balance during a shaky drive, it went straight through the palm of my hand as the blood leaked everywhere. After going to the emergency room, I was told that I tore the tendons of my index, middle and ring finger on my left hand. I was told one surgery would repair them, but one surgery turned into four and countless sessions of physical therapy with Olga.
The first time I saw her, I was a week out of surgery, the first surgery I had ever endured in my 19 years of living, and I was heavily medicated. I came with alone to my first session of therapy. I sat in the waiting room with a mix of emotions: scared, nervous and even sad. I awaited the person who would be my companion for the next three months of extensive exercises to get my fingers functioning properly; little did I know that three months would turn to almost two years.
“Natalie,” she said in a soft tone with a familiar Spanish accent. I tilted my head up and saw her. She was a middle aged woman, dark brown hair to her shoulders, glasses and a neatly pressed outfit. I struggled to pick up my purse and my pink pea coat; this was in a cold month of December. She rushed over to help me and brought me to the back to area where we would spend our time. In our first session we spoke about the accident, the surgery, and the instructions from the doctor. She also examined my hand as she asked me questions about my age, my occupation and just my life in general. She learned a lot about me that day and it would be within the next two years that I would learn about her.
We saw each other about two to three times a week. I was assigned exercises to perform at home which Olga would immediately realize that I did not do 70% of the time. She would rearrange her lunch breaks to spend an extra 20 to 30 minutes with me to try to get as much movement out of my fingers as possible.
After the second surgery to remove the scar tissue, I started became unmotivated and I never thought I would get better after the third surgery. Before each session I was disappointed in myself. Olga always looked at me discouraged because she knew that I wasn’t trying but I think that increased her drive to try harder and give her best effort to help me get better.
I came session after session and we grew a bond, a bond so strong that I began to look forward to seeing her. She told me about her life, her family back in Colombia, her husband who was an artist who traveled around the world, her love for gardening and her inability to have children. I sometimes felt like I was her child as she tried to nurture me back to health. She saw me at my worst. She witnessed endless tears and the pain I would endure during therapy. But I could always feel her warmth comforting me through it all.
After surgery number four and an additional two months of physical therapy, I had still made little to no progress. My fingers continued to have only about 20% of normal bending motion and the inability to stay in the straight position. After another session of defeat, I decided not to go back. I was tired of making her do all of the work because of my lack of motivation.
I didn’t warn her that I wasn’t coming back, it kind of just happened. I was too nervous to contact her and tell her that the reason why I wasn’t coming back was because I was giving up on myself and I knew she wouldn’t let me do that. I never called her and I can’t remember if she ever tried to contact me, I think it was better that way. I owed her so much for her efforts during the year and a half that I spent with her but I didn’t know how to pay her back.