by Nick Nordtvedt, PT, DPT, Cert MDT
Over the last month, I have had the opportunity to work with several patients who, through no fault of their own, require more than average help with activities of daily living as a result of their injury or impairment. These are patients who have either become weak and deconditioned over time, have a balance dysfunction limiting their safety when walking, or are recovering from a debilitating injury such as a stroke or a major orthopedic surgery. I believe that physical therapists have a great opportunity to positively impact the lives of these patients as well as their caregivers. My emphasis will be on the latter-the unsung heroes who help their friends and family members, often on a 24/7 schedule, without the praise and notoriety that we as healthcare professionals may get for helping their loved ones a few hours a week. The work we do certainly is imperative to the recovery and long term functionality of our patients to be able to walk, transfer, and reach overhead with improved mobility and less pain. However, I think that it is shortsighted not to acknowledge these caregivers, those who give of their time and energy for extended periods of time out of compassion to help those they love.
APPRECIATING THE LITTLE THINGS
As a physical therapist, nothing makes me happier than seeing a patient reach their goals to do something that they were unable to do or had great difficulty with doing previously. Often, these are little things that most of us take for granted-reaching up into a cabinet for a dish without pain or standing up from a chair without losing balance. But, these seemingly simple tasks are what we will miss the most when we can no longer do them, things that caregivers will help with at home for the remainder of the day when a patient is not in therapy.
HELPING THOSE WHO HELP OTHERS
Helping in a very involved way is something that most family members and friends will gladly do out of compassion and love for others. But when an illness or disability requires so much attention and care for an extended period of time, it can be taken to the point of sacrificing personal health and well-being for that of a loved one in need. I often see caregivers come into the clinic with the look of fatigue due to a sleepless night, tired from the long days and often even longer nights. A great deal of their time is spent making sure that their loved one has eaten, bathed, taken the correct medication, gone to doctors’ appointments, etc. This takes away from the caregiver’s time to take care of themselves. I see my role in caring for these patients expanded to making sure that their family and friends are getting the necessary rest and care they need as well. For some, this may be a few hours each week during therapy time that they can run errands or just take a walk to gather their thoughts. For others, it may include coordinating care and transportation or motivating other family members to help out. Sometimes taking a few minutes to call a doctor’s office to set up a follow-up appointment or arranging transportation for a patient will make what seems like an ever growing list of tasks seem a little less daunting.
A CHALLENGE TO ALL OF US
Charles Dickens said in his novel, Our Mutual Friend, “No one is useless in this world…who lightens the burden of it for anyone else.” I challenge you to not only lighten the burden for those who are in need, but also strive to help those who are helping others.