(Part 3) - PT Tow Truck "Versus" Skeptical Train Wreck Patient

Learning The Value Of Physical Therapy – A Patient’s Perspective (PART 3)

Let’s Recap:   Last week I talked about my interactions with all the healthcare providers who rode with me on that awful merry-go-round, and why I eventually decided to jump off of it(Read Part 1 and Part 2).

I am now sitting in this ditch holding the “Referral” for Physical Therapy. I stopped popping the pills prescribed at the ER because they didn’t really help, and turned me into a zombie. I was back to using Motrin and frozen bags of vegetables to help control my pain.  I have now had enough healthcare experiences to know what I DON’T value, and am ready to find out what I DO value!

It was time to get this show on the road and call the physical therapy clinic. I explained the situation, and the receptionist said they treat patients with my type of problem all the time. Wait……what? This seemed WAY too easy, but I liked what she said. This literally was like the feeling you get when your car is broken down, and the tow truck finally shows up to help get you out of trouble.  My “PT Tow Truck” was on the way, but would it really be able to pull me out of that ditch?

The day of my first appointment, I showed up on the PT clinic doorstep looking like a “train wreck”.  I was in pain, hadn’t slept in weeks, anxiety ridden, and probably hadn’t showered that morning because squeezing a shampoo bottle proved to be too exhausting due to weakness. I’m a skeptical person by nature, had now developed some trust issues, and didn’t have the best attitude walking into this PT clinic. You can imagine my dismay when an extremely “youthful-looking” young man approached me, stating he would be my physical therapist.  I was thinking “Great…. I got the new guy…. it figures!”  I remember quickly scanning the walls for a diploma or license with his name on it. Sure enough, it was hanging right near the clinic entrance.  Nobody my age or older had been able to help me yet, so I decided to let him take a crack at it.  I’m sure he had an opinion about me as well, and probably thought “Great….. I have to deal with this anxious, possibly un-showered, skeptical, train wreck patient today…. perfect!”  This physical therapist would have his work cut out for him………

At the first visit, he spent over an hour actually listening to me, asking questions, evaluating me, and performing different tests and therapy techniques. He didn’t seem alarmed with my diagnosis, and that worried me. I pressured him about the MRI results and what the other specialists said, but he still remained calm. He explained that “WE” were going to work on getting the pain under control, addressing the weakness and movement limitations, and see how things go. I was anxious and skeptical, and questioned everything he said and did. He performed something called “cervical traction” on my neck that day, and this helped my pain. He said this “pull” on my neck was creating some space between the cervical vertebrae. He also had me do some weird-looking exercises and stretches that I was to start doing at home. I wasn’t a fan, and didn’t want to look dumb doing these. He ignored my unwillingness, and encouraged me anyway. I reluctantly complied and did these stretches, chin-tucks, sliders, and side-bends. I have to give him credit, because he held up pretty well considering my behavior.  I felt better after that first appointment, but the pain would start to return that night, and my next appointment was two days away.  He had a plan though, I was included in it, and this was a nice change.

At the next few visits, we did a lot of the same things, and it was the hands-on therapy and cervical traction that helped my pain the most. He was able to help my “new” primary doctor get a home traction unit for me to use in between visits, and this provided a lot of relief. It was now about a week and a half into treatment and I was starting to feel better and was making progress. My pain was reduced, I could sleep again, and I was starting to “buy in” to physical therapy.

We talked at each visit, and I would ask A LOT of questions. He did his best to explain the in’s and out’s of my condition and the therapies he used. I took the knowledge he shared, and researched the internet for more information. I was starting to understand my condition, what caused it, how to treat it, and how to prevent the symptoms.  Years of improper movements, incorrect posture and body mechanics, mismanaged stress, and a bit of genetics all piled on top of each other to help create this problem. I was learning that these physical therapy techniques were the key to recovering, and that I would have to be an active participant in the process if wanted it to work.

Now that the pain was better controlled, it was time to work on the weakness in my right arm caused by nerve compression in my neck, and also treat the underlying cause of my movement limitations. He added strengthening exercises to my regimen, and still made me do those weird exercises at EVERY appointment AND at home.  He explained that the exercises were re-training my brain to know that it was okay for me to move my neck and head in certain directions, but I still looked ridiculous doing them! He would assess my progress at each visit, try new therapies and exercises, and see which ones were working the best. I was always expected to hold up my end of the bargain, and do a home program in between visits.

He then started a new hands-on therapy, which had me thinking he might be off his rocker…… It was a soft tissue therapy called “IASTM”.  He used an odd-looking metal tool with lotion to sort of “brush” in different patterns along my back, neck, shoulders, and arms. He explained this would “Increase blood flow and reduce my sensitivity to stretch” allowing me to move better in these areas.  I couldn’t see how this would work, but I skeptically let him proceed with this therapy at my visits.  As it turned out…. this actually worked quite well.  I never realized how “restricted” my range of motion had been, until I was backing out of a parking spot one day, and it dawned on me that I could turn my head all the way to the right to look behind me. I hadn’t turned my head this far in probably 10 years!  It was now becoming very apparent that this PT knew what he was doing. My skepticism and anxiety diminished, and he gained my trust as he was pulling me out of that ditch. 

Guess what?  Six weeks of physical therapy went by, andI consistently got better without prescribed medications, injections, or surgery………. The hands-on manual therapy, cervical traction, weird exercises, and stretches worked. The pain was gone, strength was returning, and range of motion had greatly improved. This therapist not only addressed my acute situation, but also the underlying soft tissue problems that had built up over the years, and I now felt better than I did even before my initial symptoms started!  I was quite puzzled as to WHY physical therapy was only mentioned to me as a last resort, and was told it probably wouldn’t work?  PT should have been my first stop……… not the last.

I was thankful I gave this physical therapist a chance to help me, and also restore some of my faith in the healthcare system. I had just experienced first-hand, the value of physical therapy.

I was now ready to put this all behind me and ride off into the sunset, but my neurological system had OTHER plans, and this would not be the end of my story just yet. I would throw myself back into that ditch for a moment, get a BIG reality check, and then hopefully put an end to all the madness! There was another lesson to learn before I would completely grasp how valuable physical therapy really was………

Fun Term Of The Week - Train Wreck:  A chaotic or disastrous situation that holds a peculiar fascination for observers.

UP NEXT WEEKThe Setback, The Comeback, and Staying On Track

Stay Tuned for the Final Conclusion of this 4 Part Series!