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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

A Novel Approach to Physical Therapy

Published February 2, 2011 8:00 AM by Danielle Bullen

I recently read a novel where physical therapy figured prominently. In The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, the main character undergoes extensive rehab following a car accident where he suffers severe burns. While not the main focus of the story, his recovery is an important plot thread that weaves through the book. 

I racked my brain to think of other stories where a main character underwent physical therapy. And I couldn't think of any. For someone who reads as much as I do-a lot-that was surprising. Overcoming challenges, physical and mental roadblocks, dealing with difficult patients, feeling pride in the end results-you would think rehab would provide writers with plenty of fodder to tell compelling stories. Davidson managed to track his character's progress without resorting to technical medical terms, keeping the rehab portions of the novel accessible to readers without a science background. Knowing what I do about physical therapy from writing for  ADVANCE, the portrayal seemed on track.

Have you ever read about a fictional PT? Was he or she accurately portrayed? Why do you think therapy is not the topic of many novels?


I am reminded of the horrible presentation of a Physical Therapist in a Movie, "Flawless" with Robert DeNiro and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was teaching at NYU at the time and the cast and director visited Rusk Rehab Center to get an idea of what rehab was really like.

The end result was a PT who put hot pepper (I think it was hot pepper) on DeNiro's plate of food to get him to shout and start speaking after a stroke. After that little bit of patient abuses there was a shot of DeNiro walking down a hallway at Burke Rehab Center and that was about it for his rehab.

Maybe it hits too close to home for some, maybe people think of us as glorified massage therapists (see Toni Patt's post this week), or maybe it just isn't that interesting if you're not a PT yourself. How many people really want to sit around and watch in your PT gym?

There was a little known film called "The Wedding Banquet" where one of the two main characters was a PT. There were a few shots of him treating the other characters father after a stroke, some stretches, AROM, and gait training all in all about 1.5 minutes on screen. At least he didn't feed him hot pepper!

Dean Metz February 2, 2011 1:29 PM

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