PTs & OTs & SLPs – Oh My!

My faith walk on this planet informs me of the three parts that make up my being – Body, Soul and Spirit. My body is my Earth suit, it’s how I get around and do the things needing done. My personality and intellect are contained in my soul and it determines what I do, where I go and, to a large degree, who I am. My spirit connects me to the universe and gives me purpose and an eternal viewpoint. This is how I view my existence and, as I soon found out, also informs the rehabilitation process in a surprisingly similar pattern.

Let me explain.

Laying in a bed having survived an acquired brain injury, not having good movement capability, not able to function except at the most basic level, and having difficulty making the connections to figure it all out, I knew I needed help. And, admittedly, I had my doubts how anybody could take this mess of a human being and make it right again. But first I needed to get out of the bed…

Physical Therapy, in the form of Matthew (Doctor of Physical Therapy, or DPT) arrived with a smiling face and a wheelchair. Turns out ol’ Matt had been reading my file and was up to the challenge of getting me in motion. Because mostly, at this stage, that’s what PT is all about – walking. If you can’t get there you can’t accomplish much. So off we headed to the gym which, it turns out, was full of PTs and patients in varying stages of walking.

I needed to crawl before I could walk, and a Walmart shopping cart was the way to do it. Seriously. Add a little weight to the basket and you have a secure walking platform with four wheels and a handle. Believe it or not, even with all the shopping I have done, it was terrifying. But I managed to scoot the cart along (at least it didn’t have that wobble wheel that is always prevalent at the store!) and soon progressed to a walker. Now I’ll be the first to say I had no intention of being stuck on a walker, but I wouldn’t be walking without one and soon enough I had gone 40 feet on my own. A couple days later I did 80 feet, and with all the cheers and congratulations I felt like a baby learning to walk. And that’s one of the keys to the whole process – a positive and encouraging soul to keep you moving forward. Soon I was at 200 feet and then laps around the gym. I was wobbly and unsure and fearful but, as Matt told me, I was my own worst critic. I was doing well. Walking. Getting there.

Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs, are the province of the Occupational Therapist. These are the basic things I needed to learn to do again as a 61 year-old. And do them safely. These include feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming, work, homemaking, and leisure. And wiping my own butt. Yes, TMI, but really, in the grand scheme of things, nothing says rehab better than this basic task. When Robin showed up and suggested a shower I thought that sounded slippery and dangerous, giving that I could not yet walk unassisted. But using a transport shower chair she coached me through the process. And I mean coached because she would not help one bit, making me go through each step on my own from washing my hair to brushing my teeth. I thought she was going to dress me but, no, she had a better idea. And with her cheering me on I learned how to hook my shorts with my foot to pull them on and get my socks on with clever maneuvers on the bed. It wasn’t easy – but I could do it myself! Clean and dressed in fresh clothes can really boost your spirits and shine some hope on the whole rehabilitation process.

I did not have significant speech problems so I wasn’t sure why I was scheduled for a Speech Language Pathologist – I could talk just fine, thank you – but Michelle soon explained it to me in basic terms. Until I showed her I could safely eat I would not get solid food and eat in my room. Motivation enough! I made short work of that (I do like to eat) and then found out that SLPs really deal with everything from the neck up. This would include cognitive training, reading comprehension, decision making and endless games and word puzzles. Diana and I playing Scrabble turned out to be a fine adjunct to that. Fortunately, my intellect and memory was largely intact and the SLP soon worked herself out of a job.

Hopefully you can see the connection here with my simple Body, Soul and Spirit view of life. The PT is focused on walking, on the getting there, being mobile. The OT focuses on what you do when you get there, how to function. And the SLP sharpens your ability to understand what you are doing and make good judgements. They bring their significant training and experience to the fore with one goal – to get the patient back to a full, complete person.

As I was wrapping up PT Matt said he had a “special place” to take me. We walked down a hall that I had been before, a place with AstroTurf so I could experience a walker on an uneven surface (turns out the walker was going home with me). When he opened a door I saw it was a stairwell, with concrete steps and steel handrails, too far apart to grab both. I said, “No way” and he replied, “I believe you can do it.” So I did – I went down the long staircase and came back up on my own. Matt was right. He believed and made me believe.

OT had run out of ADLs so Robin asked me what I liked to do and I answered cook. Off we headed down to the OT worktable and she had me open a box of dishes and set a table for 8, all the while walking me through tips and techniques for safely maneuvering the kitchen. Like keeping a chair handy to sit down, breaking up meal prep over time, sitting at the table to cut stuff. It was all very practical and useful and I use these ideas at home.

Apparently I was high-functioning, and Michelle told me from an SLP standpoint I was done. I thought she was just trying to boost my confidence, but she assured me that there wasn’t much more she could do. I would go deeper in outpatient SLP, but I was finished with rehab.

The amazing thing is that all this took place in less than three weeks. After three weeks in the hospital surviving the onslaught of the EEE virus I arrived at Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation unable to get out of bed, walk, use the bathroom, shower. Honestly, I couldn’t even pull myself up in bed. But here I was, eating real food, walking, taking care of myself. I was so proud to shower and dress myself in my exit outfit. I left rehab a bit wobbly, a bit unsure, a bit rough around the edges. I also left rehab with admiration and respect for these pros, not just the ones I mentioned but all of them, that not only practice their craft and share their knowledge but also really care.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have a ways to go and plenty of healing to do. But I had doubted the transformative power of modern rehab. The staff had proved me wrong as they overcame my fears and hesitations, and sent me home on the path to wholeness – body, soul and spirit. I will continue my journey to wellness in outpatient rehab with still more wonderful therapists. PTs & OTs & SLPs – oh my!

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