When I was a college student preparing for a career in speech-language pathology, I always hoped for a clinical practicum at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. This facility, located in Schenectady, New York, a short 15 miles from my school, specializes in physical rehabilitation. As an aspiring rehabilitation professional, I wanted to be where the action was. I wanted to get clinical experience with people who were motivated to work towards a goal, who (unlike me) maybe looked forward to their time in rehabilitation.
*Side note – I know there are writing experts who will say I should spell out “rehabilitation” throughout this post, but all my life I have been calling it “rehab” and to change now would make this post sound not at all like me. Deal. It’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Does anyone else see the irony in me, a person who has always hated her own rehab and physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT), wanting to work at a facility that specializes in rehab therapy? While it’s true that I usually hate going to my own PT sessions, I have great respect for the professionals who have always tried to get me to maintain my physical function. Just because I despise the pain and torture of contract and release when applied to my own contracted joints doesn’t mean I don’t have admiration for those tasked with helping me preserve mobility and range of motion.
So, when the discharge planner and social worker came to visit me after a week in the hospital, I did not hesitate to tell them I wanted to go to Sunnyview for my rehab. I am well acquainted with the discharge process, and knew I might not be be viewed as a good candidate for intensive rehab. I understood my insurance might not authorize a stay at Sunnyview. But I did not want to go to a nursing home for rehabilitation. If I wanted to regain maximum function, I needed the best and that meant Sunnyview.
Thankfully, there was a bed available on the neuro unit, and insurance said yes. On Thursday, January 28, fifteen days after fracturing my femur and forty minutes after my morning pain pills, I was transported to Sunnyview.
One of the best parts of completing rehab at a rehab hospital is that the staff understands you are there to work. This may seem like an obvious point, but this mindset is not found at nursing homes where the majority of admissions are not high level rehab patients. However, all of the nurses and patient care techs on my unit knew I was there for a reason – to learn new ways of functioning so I could go home. From the first day, I felt everyone was there to help me do my best so I could make progress towards my goal. Everything was designed to give patients like me the best opportunity to perform well during PT, OT and speech therapy. I did my part, participating in three hours of therapy each day without complaint. Well – I may have complained some. But, I still did everything that was asked of me.
By far, the two people who had the most impact on my successful rehabilitation were Tracey (my primary PT) and Joe (my primary OT). Tracey and Joe took the time to ask me questions about my life, my routines, my goals and my concerns. I was involved as an active participant on my rehab team at every step of the way. As a woman who has had to convince multiple medical providers I am indeed an expert on my body, I was prepared to have clashes with the rehab staff. Those clashes never happened with Joe and Tracey. They acknowledged my history with disability and encouraged me to try what felt right for me while still pushing me to explore new options.
My primary goal was to be able to transfer in/out of my wheelchair without needing a mechanical lift and without putting weight on my injured leg. Tracey and I tried different transfer boards, wooden and plastic boards designed to help a person smoothly slide from one surface to another. When I suggested the Beasy Board, which would ultimately become my new mode of transferring, Tracey didn’t question me. She just hopped up and went to find one so we could practice. After the first transfer we knew we were onto something good, so Tracey called Joe over to our mat in the gym to watch. The patient in me was excited to have found a good option. The rehab professional in me felt like I was once again part of an interdisciplinary team, only this time focused on me.
Because they knew I would need to train my PAs in this new method of transferring, Joe and Tracey packed my schedule with opportunities to work with other PTs and OTs. Each day, I had the opportunity to practice teaching at least 2 new people my new transfer technique. This prepared me well for the transition home, when I had to teach my home care team and friends how to help me.
After 2 weeks, I was ready for discharge. I had progressed as far as I was going to in the hospital setting and it was time for me to tackle the next step – my own home environment. I left Sunnyview on February 10, nervous about the transition but ready to sleep in my own bed. It was not the end of my rehabilitation, simply the end of the inpatient journey.
I am grateful to all the staff at Sunnyview who helped me make the transition from hospital to home. The nursing staff of 2 West treated me with dignity, compassion and kindness. Joe, Tracey and the entire therapy staff pushed me to do more than I thought I was capable of doing and encouraged me to keep working when I felt I didn’t have any energy left. I know I am where I am today because of their care and expertise.