Learning The Value Of Physical Therapy - A Patient’s Perspective (Part 1)

Who, What, and Why?

A 43-year-old female who was in her usual state of health until……

When I sat down to write my personal healthcare story and how I came to really understand theimportance and value of physical therapy, I got my notes out and read through them and was like “This story is like some sort of bad reality show or TV mini series, did all this stuff seriously happen?”   Yes……Yes it did… and you can bet that I am glad it is over. It has been a few years now, so I can laugh about it and roll my eyes, but when it was happening it wasn’t so funny. I am writing this series of blog posts for several reasons.  First off, I want to help people understand the value of physical therapy and why it should be considered as a first choice treatment for pain and movement problems, and I also want to encourage others to be their own advocate when dealing with their health. Our body is like our “vehicle” for life, and we can’t trade it in for a new one. We need to be aware, educated, and informed about our body, how it works, and our healthcare options. If I can help even one person avoid a bad ride on the “healthcare merry-go-round” like the one I was on, then it was worth my time to write this.   The other reason I am writing this is to help physical therapists understand how a patient may have ended up on their respective doorstep looking like a “train wreck”, and the patient’s frame of mind that got them there.  Trust me….I’m pretty sure they didn’t get that way on their own!

Getting started on writing this was harder than I thought.   When this injury happened, I didn’t go straight from Injury to Physical Therapy.  Instead, I took a not so enjoyable trip down Pain Boulevard, Frustration Street, and then had an unfortunate ride on the Healthcare Merry-Go-Round.  PT will always be my first stop in the future, before other interventions, but I will get into that a little later. There were a lot events and interactions that influenced how I feel now. Learning the value of something is a process and not instantaneous. There is trial and error, screwing up, asking questions, falling down again, and then getting back up and brushing ourselves off.  Sometimes we need to learn what we DON’T value first, before we can really understand what we DO value. Because of this experience, I have completely changed my entire outlook on the healthcare system, the role of providers, and where my responsibility lies in this as a patient. Now that I have my groove back and I’m in the swing of things, I can honestly look back and really see what happened, how it happened, and why.  It’s a good thing I have a great sense of humor, because I wouldn’t be able to write about this without that, so here we go!

My First Problem.... A Flawed Thought Process…. What Was I Thinking!

I’m in my middle 40’s now and looking back, I realize that the root cause of my problem started way before my acute neck injury. It started a long time ago with a flawed thought process ingrained in not just me, but in society as a whole.  We seem to always want a “quick fix” for everything so we can get on with our life, but we shouldn’t be approaching our health like a “Quick Lube Oil Change”. This flawed thought process carried over into how I viewed my health and how I thought about doctors. When I went to the doctor, I expected them to fix my problem on the spot so I could get on with my day. Usually within 5 or 10 minutes, I had a diagnosis and prescription. I also took to popping Motrin and Tylenol on a regular basis as a quick fix for pain or discomfort. I never really had any big problems, so normally this worked pretty well…….until it didn’t. I also didn’t really know anything about my doctor other than she only spent about 10 minutes with me, handed me a prescription, and I paid my co-pay and left.  Hmmm… I’m pretty sure I have spent more time picking out paint colors for my walls, than I ever did thinking about my own healthcare. Is it possible that this was a dumb thing to do on my part?  The polls are in, and yes, it was definitely dumb!

Patients (me included) have come to expect quick fixes for all our ailments. We have so much available to us, and we have become accustomed to expect a medication, injection, or surgery to be the first thing that we, and many healthcare providers, go to in order to solve all our problems.  It’s just become the normal way of thinking and the normal thing to do. Until you actually have an injury and are in pain, you may not think much about these options. Being in pain affects your emotions, which then can affect your decision making skills. When my injury occurred, I immediately wanted an instant fix. I was in a lot of pain and wanted it to stop. It wasn’t until later, through physical therapy, that I started to realize I had some control over my situation and could play a big role in my own recovery, as well as prevention of future problems. (More to come on this).

Obviously you can’t just do a “quick fix” all the time, and you need to find out what the underlying problem is so it doesn’t keep happening, causing a more serious issue. Think of it like if the pipes in your house kept leaking and you never looked at why. For years and years you just keep plugging up the different leaks, but then one day all the pipes burst and you are standing there wondering what the heck happened!  On the flip side of this… you also don’t want to rush and replace all the pipes in your house immediately, just because you found one leak. What you need to do is find someone who is knowledgeable, honest, has common sense, and will be willing to refer you to a better plumber if he is not sure how to fix the problem. What you don’t want is someone fixing something that isn’t broke, creating more problems, or making absolute claims on how to fix things after being in your house for two minutes without even doing an inspection of the pipes.

There are plenty of wonderful healthcare providers out there, but there are also plenty of mediocre and not so good one’s as well.  The problem is that healthcare is sometimes like trying to navigate a maze with a blindfold on, and finding those great providers or treatment options isn’t always easy. Let’s be honest here, healthcare is a “business” driven by “numbers”, with the patient sometimes left holding an empty bag. Don’t even get me started on insurance companies!   Yes…. I am somewhat to blame here for being a clueless patient and thinking anyone with a credential after their name was an expert.My flawed mentality eventually got me into hot water, but I’m not taking all the blame on this one! I had plenty of people with this same flawed thought process keeping me on sort of a “healthcare merry-go-round.  They kept depositing quarters for my ride until I eventually had enough sense to throw myself off it, landed in a ditch, and had to call the PT tow truck to help me get out of trouble.

With all that being said, I want to make it clear that next week when I tell you about the ridiculous details of my healthcare story, I am not trying to throw anyone under a bus. Whenever you learn a life-lesson, there is ALWAYS a back story… and a back story you will get. Sometimes you just have to say how it all went down!

Fun Term Of The Week – Quick Fix: An easy remedy or solution, especially a temporary one which fails to address underlying problems.

UP NEXT WEEK…… The Merry-Go-Round and The Making of a Mess…. Stay Tuned!