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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Live Your Best Life

Published April 4, 2012 4:20 PM by Lisa Mueller

As I've been working in an outpatient orthopedic setting for the first time in almost three years, I'm beginning to remember some of the perks of working with these patients. It's been fun to educate my patients in a different way than when I worked in acute care. I have really enjoyed the one-on-one time with my patients without the constant interruptions (unintentional, I know) from doctors, nurses or other hospital staff. I'm slowly adjusting to the different focus of an outpatient evaluation (pain, loss of function) versus an inpatient acute evaluation (mobility, overall independence to care for self).

One question I ask my patients in the evaluation, or even in treatment sessions to mark our progress, is "How long have you been living with this pain?" Or, "When did the pain start?" I am very surprised that my patients will tell me they have had pain for months or years. Over that time they convinced themselves into a pattern of thinking: that the pain will eventually subside, that the pain isn't great enough to warrant attention, that any descriptions of pain will only illustrate the weaknesses of the patient, or due to lack of time the patient could not address his area of pain.

I may be channeling some of my subconscious Oprah as I write this, but I really feel badly when I hear that my patients have lived with pain for as long as they say. I cannot imagine losing any of that time due to pain. I have been lucky in that I haven't had to experience such a loss. Life is too short. Maybe that is why I am such an advocate for early intervention - both in an ICU and an outpatient setting. Life is too short to let pain "win" our time.

Physical therapists can make big impacts this way, by improving the quality of our patients' lives. And when we have the honor to help our patients this way, their lives are never the same. It's a very powerful relationship and clearly one of the most satisfying reasons to be a physical therapist.

What do you think? Do you remember a particular situation where you made a difference? Can you recall certain patients whose quality of life was improved because of your work?

P.S. I became an APTA member this week. More to come on that topic soon.


What a great goal!  It is really fun to hear sometimes what my patient's goals are.  Dancing is fabulous.  Great job in helping her get there, Dean!

Lisa Mueller April 5, 2012 9:12 PM

I worked with a woman who had Guillain Barre and after 4 weeks of rehab she was sent home with the ability to transfer bed to commode and not much else. She had been a professional dancer and met her husband while touring with a national company of a Broadway show. She was devastated. Her goal was to dance with her husband on New Year's Eve. She told me that with a bitter laugh as if it would never happen. We worked together for 9 months (I met her in late March) which was a real feat in and of itself. Long story short...She danced with her husband on New Year's Eve. It was a short dance and she still walked with a cane at that point, but I will never forget her or her husband who was so supportive through a long, tiring, tear filled process. She eventually walked without a cane and up until I moved to England, I would still she the two of them walking in my old neighbourhood in New York. That memory is what I hold onto on the days when the world of PT loses its "glamour" and I wonder what the heck I'm doing in this profession.

Cheers, Dean

Dean Metz April 5, 2012 11:51 AM

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