Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Beauty of Rehab

To join with my patients as a partner in the task of restoring dignity to a broken spirit.  This is the true meaning of rehabilitation.”—Dr. Paul Brand

Therapy of any kind is hard, courageous work.  It forces you to confront your limitations, to come face to face with your vulnerabilities, and yet I believe there is beauty to be found within the experience.  This spring I was working with a physical therapist to strengthen my hip flexor muscles.  The right side of my body seemed to respond easily to the motion; my left was a different story.  For what seemed like a solid minute, I lay on the table and with every ounce of mental energy I could muster, I told my left leg to move in a certain direction.  It would not budge.  Eventually, other muscles kicked in to compensate and I moved about an inch.  My therapist recognized my struggle and said to me, “Is your left side a little tighter than your right?”  

“Yes,” I responded.  “I think I just met my match.”  

“It’s okay.”  

I felt so dignified in that moment, like I had just been given space to struggle without being judged.  In fact, I felt like I had a cheerleader standing beside me.  In light of this experience, I asked one of my former physical therapists to respond to this question:  “What beauty have you discovered in helping people who have encountered an injury or disability gain a greater sense of movement?”  Enjoy what Connie Bromaghim has to share!


 “At first glance, I thought the answer would be easy to write as I recalled patients I’ve had over the more than thirty years in the profession. I remembered as a young therapist in Duluth, MN, organizing “an old-time dance” activity for the post-stroke rehab patients. The beauty came in their smiling faces upon hearing some favorite polkas and waltzes as they tried harder to move their arms and legs that no longer ‘danced” the way they once did.

Then, I recalled the beauty in a young man injured in a motorcycle accident. After re- learning to walk, we walked outside in the sunshine. He heard sounds he’d not recently heard while in the hospital and he felt the wind blow. He bent down to feel the grass and a smile lit his face. Finding that he had to get up from the ground in a different way really didn’t matter because he was so delighted to be outside again.

Pediatric patients like Jenny were always especially fun because I always felt challenged to make necessary exercises playful, if possible. Rehab can be daunting, exercises can be tough, but less so if the focus is on a game that achieves the same outcome. Beauty is found when helping a patient accomplish rehab goals with optimism, pride, confidence, and feeling good with one’s “new-normal.”

I’ve spent most of my years in physical therapy working with chronic pain patients. These individuals often feel disabled because pain interferes with their lifestyle, perhaps their every movement. Beauty comes when they learn, and are committed to doing new techniques, to manage their pain because they find that their spirit feels better too. And, that’s the key. For me, it is beautiful when I know I have found the right connections and built a rapport that helps patients move forward with new strategies to feel better, even if not totally pain free.

For the challenge is not solely in accomplishing an exercise program but in developing the understanding to want to change, breaking down tasks to simple components and achieving small successes that eventually lead to bigger, more positive successes. When that happens, there truly is beauty and grace in those new-normal movements because they are done more confidently, with a spirit that moves more freely.”
Using my Gumby and Pokey toys as part of rehab with Connie 1989.

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