Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Memoirs of a Practising Physical Therapist

As a practicing physical therapist, everyday life brings before me an opportunity to meet new faces and a chance to probe deep into their lives. This is simultaneously enlightening as well as depressing. Sometimes, it is painful to hear the story of the hardships that people endure to lead normal lives, their pain, difficulties and disappointments become a part of my life for the days to come. Sometimes, the triumph of their spirit to conquer obstacles becomes an inspiration for me. Raka was one such who touched me forever.

She was ten years old and was the victim of a gruesome road accident, while returning from school one day. When she first came to my clinic, I could see that she was a hopeless case. Her limbs were paralyzed and there was very little chance to recovery. I was about to tell her parents who had accompanied her that there was nothing I could do for her, when I saw her tiny face smile with hope. I decided to give it a try.

As a Physical therapist I provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. My clan restores, maintains, and promotes overall fitness and health. Our patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

I examined her medical histories and then measured Rakas’ strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. I also had to determine her ability to be independent and reintegrate into the community or workplace after injury or illness. Next, as a physical therapist, I had to develop treatment plans describing a treatment strategy, its purpose, and its anticipated outcome.

We started our sessions. I showed her exercises that would not be difficult for her to grasp. But I found that she could not do them. Despite the apparent inability, she was trying and trying harder than I thought she was capable of. I had to use electrical stimulation, hot packs or cold compresses, and ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce swelling. I also used traction, deep-tissue massage to relieve pain. There were sessions where I had to show her how to use a wheelchair.

All through the entire exercise, Raka smiled and tried hard. There were times when I was sure that we were losing and almost ready to give up, but she would always beam a brilliant smile and I knew that we could try harder

Six months later, Raka could walk on her feet again. As she took her first slow steps, I did not know who was happier, her parents or I. We had dinner at her place, where I saw photographs of her school. She had to quit school after that accident. Although, she took lessons at home, she longed to go back to school and be with her friends. It was tough for a ten year old to realize why her friends almost never came to visit her, or why she could not participate in their games, much as she wanted to.

One day Raka was strong enough to go back to school. I came to see her off that day. As she smiled gratefully at me and walked up to her bus, I knew that this tiny heart had more courage in her than an army of soldiers and that had made all the difference.

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