My BP was 136/98. I couldn’t help the tears from streaming down my face. It happened so quickly. It was doing something I have done over a hundred times a day the past 4.5 years. When I stood up from readjusting a wheelchair to affix the leg rest on the hinges, a sharp, intense pain overcame my left glute and back. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. My mom shuttled me to the nearest urgent care to seek medical attention. My diagnosis is a severe lumbar strain. I injured my butt and my back. My husband had to take off work and help me don my underwear, pants, socks and shoes. My mom brought me food and picked up my medication. I went from independent to dependent quicker than the blink of an eye. Numerous pain killers, muscle relaxers, steroids, and OTC medications later, I was walking into the physical therapy outpatient clinic for my evaluation. But that day, I was not the therapist, I was the patient.
They always say, healthcare professionals make the worst patients. We challenge everything. We know what to say, what not to say, and exactly how you are going to document our session. It is a humbling experience to be on the other side of the coin. I went from giving orders to following them, and relying on the physical therapist to be my cheerleader to help me get through my sessions. I depended on them for pain relief and counted on them to help me return to work. The role of being a patient has allowed me to document some of my personal experiences to take back to the clinic:
- 3 sets of 10 repetitions
“Is that always the magic number?” my patient would always ask me as I would hand them a weighted dowel and demonstrate the movement I wanted them to complete. Wow. Who knew 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise with a lumbar strain would be difficult? Most of the exercises, I would complete 2 sets of 10 reps, and if I felt good, I would do a third. Here I am, a healthy, fit woman having trouble completing exercises. My butt and back felt as if they were on fire. I had to breathe through the pain and take rest breaks. 3 sets of 10 repetitions is not always the magic number.
- Patient Care & Quality
Healthcare is a hot topic. Rules and regulations increase every year. Productivity demands for therapists are often unattainable and fostered by big businesses that want to shuttle patients in and out of the clinic like cattle. Therapists that can work in outpatient clinics can treat 4-5 people an hour. I try to schedule myself when they are less booked and could provide undivided attention. Some people, like me, need manual techniques (stretching, joint mobilizations, etc.), in which you would have to keep your other patients working simultaneously. I can see how it can be frustrating for the patient as they are getting split time, and overwhelming for the therapist dealing with multiple people with varying needs. When a patient or a therapist, having patience is a virtue.
- Pain is not a Joke
Holy hell. If my patient tells me they are in pain, now I really feel for them. As a clinician, I am always mindful of pain, but now I truly understand what it is like to be in therapy and have pain. When I walked into my PT evaluation, my butt and back pain was an 8/10. It hurt to transition between sitting and standing and sitting to laying down. I was walking slowly and carefully. I was barely sleeping and the prescription Naproxen wasn’t helping. Everything was aggravated; me, my butt, my back, my attitude. Pain impacts daily life. Having pain has taught me to be more aware of the pain my patients experience during their therapy session.
- Home Exercise Program Compliance
I received 5 exercises for my core, back, and legs on the first day of physical therapy. I was instructed on each exercise and told to perform them 2x a day (1x a day on my PT days). I do them when I wake up in the AM, and before I go to bed in the evening. They are time consuming and take diligence, planning, and time management to complete. As a therapist, I give my patients home exercises to help with his/her joint mobility, strength, endurance, and to help reduce any stiffness before he/she comes to therapy. As a patient, a home exercise program feels like a nuisance, even though it makes me feel better and results in less pain.
One of the main reasons I became a therapist is because I needed physical therapy to recover from a meniscus tear in my right knee. After being exposed to the clinic, I signed up for observation hours with an occupational therapist. One of my fondest memories was watching an OT teach a young child in a wheelchair how to open a door and negotiate through the threshold. I wanted to help people, too. I am now the one being helped. I try to turn bad fortune into positive experiences. Being the patient has given me insight regarding workload, pain, quality care, and home exercise programs. It has helped me realize the importance of my profession and the impact it makes in people’s lives. Now, excuse me, but I need to go do my home exercise program…
PS. Due to this injury, our Lake Placid trip was postponed.