A Story About Hope And Perseverance

A lifetime ago, this man could pilot a fighter jet. His arms deftly controlled the instruments and the stick while his feet maneuvered the rudder. His eyes visualized the target while his brain processed the details – speed, distance, height, movement, sound, threat. His spine compressed and expanded as the gravitational forces fluctuated from one extreme to the next.

He could put that plane back on a carrier deck surrounded by a vast ocean, climb down the ladder from the cockpit, peel out of his flight suit, debrief in the ready room and swallow a steak in the officers’ mess. Off to sleep and back at it again at o-dawn-thirty. He’s a three-war veteran with a distinguished flying cross in his medal case and stories of valor, camaraderie and practical jokes. He could also throw down a pretty mean jitterbug.

Today, this same man has a heart like a slush pump and lungs that trap fuel and exhaust in place. His bones are worn, his tendons are flimsy and his muscles are wasted. His skin bruises and tears with the slightest bump or brush. Sleep and appetite are in short supply thanks to medications that exacerbate nighttime urinary frequency and assault the taste buds.

Summoning the will to move under these circumstances makes grunting through a 5 G bank feel effortless. Pull forward in the chair, push up to standing, reach for the walker, shuffle forward, try to push through the pain and generate enough momentum to get to the bathroom in time. Try not to trip on the oxygen tubing on the way.

The component parts of this man’s movement system have gradually conspired against him as time, mileage and pathology have piled on. Hope arrives in the form of his physical therapist. Not me, by the way – I play the role of daughter-in-law in this story. It is she who inspects him head to toe, doses his exercise, adjusts his gait mechanics, titrates his oxygen, monitors his responses, coaches his technique, and weathers his bouts of curmudgeonly demeanor. She regularly manages to turn “no” into “a little bit” and celebrates each victory with a smile.

She won’t cure his heart failure or reverse his COPD, but she will help him improve his skeletal muscle strength and endurance just enough to dial back the metabolic demand. His heart won’t work as hard and his cells won’t scream for more oxygen quite as often. She won’t overcome the effects of his benign prostate hypertrophy or his diuretic, but she will teach him strategies to reduce his fall risk at night. She won’t replace the lost cartilage in his joints, but she will ease his pain with her hands and her counsel.

Some days he will greet her with honey, other days with a growl. She will persevere because she understands that she is the instrument of his success. Her mastery of movement system science, her ability to weave her knowledge together with his aspirations, and her compassion for this old man will produce the result we anxiously listen for when we ask “How are you dad?”

“I had a good day.”

The story was originally posted at http://rehabintel.net/2015/04/04/the-fighter-pilot-and-the-physical-therapist/

Dianne Jewell, PT – I am a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience working in inpatient and outpatient settings. Throughout my career I have been a full-time clinician, administrator and educator. Now I am self-employed consultant focused on helping my colleagues navigate the competitive, highly regulated health care environment. I’m also an occasional writer and blogger. Visit my web site (www.rehabintel.net) to learn more about what I’m up to and what I believe in.