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Raising the Bar in Rehab

How Can I Help?

Published December 6, 2013 3:19 PM by Lisa Mueller

One of the reasons I like being a physical therapist is that I'm able to help others. I like teaching patients and families new things that will (hopefully) improve their quality of life. I enjoy helping patients reduce pain and seeing their faces light up when they're able to complete functional movements with ease. When I can't offer much help to my patients, I'm somewhat comforted with offering alternatives and coordinating care for my patient with other providers -- so I know they are least have options.

An acquaintance of mine was recently diagnosed with ALS and has lost a lot of function in the past three months. For the first time, I really don't know how to help. I haven't seen any imaging results to know the severity of the pathology, but I know enough about the disease and the change in my friend to know the impact ALS has had this far.

There have been times during treatments when one of my patients might become overwhelmed with his physical or mental disabilities, or the prognosis of his disease, and become quite emotional. Physical therapy can many times highlight a patient's deficits (in order to assist the patient in improving), although in some cases it is the therapist's duty to emphasize the progress, and rightfully so.

The situation is that, I've become accustomed to speaking with patients from the perspective of a physical therapist, but not very often as a familiar friend. I don't know what my role is or needs to be. Although I know my friend well, this new diagnosis brings unfamiliar friendship territory. I'm not sure if my friend needs me to be a physical therapist -- interpreting some medical advice, recalling past experiences and emphasizing that miracles do happen. Or perhaps my friend needs some empathy, someone to vent to about the frustrations of a new diagnosis. Maybe both.

In either case, this experience (so far) has made me grateful yet again for the knowledge I have about the nuances of the healthcare system and the blessing of good health.

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Take the guess work out. Ask your friend, "How can I help?" They may need their hand held or they may need information or perhaps help talking with one of their health providers. Let them decide and maintain as much autonomy as possible. Good luck.

Dean Metz December 7, 2013 7:43 AM

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