Happy Joint Benders

February 21st, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Just over a week ago, I was in final exam for hospital escape. Docs and nurses mostly know that patients get the bum’s rush — out a day or two before common sense and compassion would have them go. There are other sufferers who need that bed as their ticket to surgery or other treatment.

Over three days in and over two since surgery, I was well aware of the 18-hour-a-day corridor cacophony.  Yet in the first session, the physical therapist, Jason, quickly concurred with the nurse that I needed more than one hour and a lesson on how to pull myself to quasi-standing in a walker.

The second session the next day was far more productive. Jason tailored it as a short course on climbing and descending stairs as my instant final exam. He knew I had stairs that I’d have to climb, clamber or crawl up from the hour I got home, quiet home.

There are two steps from the front sidewalk to the walkway, three to the front door (no railings), one tall step into the house, and an ominous 13 to the upstairs with bedroom and bathroom. On task, Jason was all techniques and tips.

Of course, I rarely consider our stairs. We enter on what I know now to be euphemistically the first floor.  Someone delivering a new appliance will ask as research for the calculus of front, rear deck or bulkhead stairs. Otherwise, my mind had me walking into our house from the street. (In reality, I know better, I’ve been involved in wheelchair access for churches, but still…)

Jason carried my new aluminum friend, Comrade Crutch. Like a spent bacchanal, I forced myself upright. A day after my first go at the walker, this effort was merely intense pain, not light-flashing, uvea-drenching agony. I didn’t care if it was the narcotic or a tiny healing trend. I could stand and still breath. Yeah me.

So my job was to fairly trot down the hall 100 feet or so to a central stairwell and learn how to ascend and descend stairs with one good leg, one crutch and a handrail. The exam would begin when I had raced to my starting position.up.jpg

Jason is delightfully kind, patient and calm. The latter quality made me ask whether he found satisfaction in being part of the medical process on the best end — the one where people are better, will continue to get better and are better off for what you do for them.

He gushed in a positive response. It seems he figured that out in mid-teens. With a bad back injury, he got great help from a PT guy and thought what a good profession. You are not treating people for debilitating diseases, ones likely to get worse despite all efforts. You are not treating the soon dying. You are not even prepping folk for a surgery they may not survive.

Instead, your patients are maimed, but almost certain to improve. Yes, Jason said, he had been right. There is great satisfaction in PT.

The hospital flight had 10 steps to the landing. Despite my willing otherwise, it had 10 down as well.

Bad foot down. Good foot up. That was the first pair of rules. There were techniques too, like the crutch no more than a third away from the lip of the stair.

I passed. Surely I could not have the previous day when the pain of merely standing was, shall we say, memorable.

The orthopedic surgeons are terrifically cavalier about such matters. (Think, “Our work is done here, Tonto.”) They told me on Tuesday night, a few hours after surgery, that I could walk on the busted leg on Wednesday.

By that they really meant, said the nurses, that they had placed a metal rod inside the larger bone, so that bone could theoretically bear weight. Those tiny matters of nerves the breaks and surgery damaged, a limb swollen to bursting, agony from any muscular contraction in the leg, and even masses of oozing blood and other fluids saturating dressings were not their issues. They had in fact fixed the major bone.

Such compartmentalization is assuredly necessary and useful for them. They are in many ways the auto-mechanics or cabinetmakers of the profession. In my case, no artful diagnosis was required; the x-rays showed all. Then the cowboy surgeons went inside to pound a “nail” as they call the titanium rod inside the tibia, while rearranging the muscles around the other broken bone to hold it in place. Staple ‘im up and he’s ready to walk, hell, to dance.

The Jasons of the medical world do not bring home the big bags of bucks. They lack the swagger and nonchalance of the surgeons. Yet, Jason is around for the healing and happiness. I think he wins.

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