I’ve had a really fantastic caseload this week. I’ve been busy, but my patients are challenging, and interesting, and I’ve really enjoyed them as people!
There’s K. with the TBI . . . his enthusiasm in each treatment session is contagious and his determination is inspiring.
And H. who comes for hand therapy . . . she expresses deep gratitude with each small step of progress which helps remind me that I love my job, not for the thank you’s, but for the small steps that help people live again.
There’s also Little H. who still cries and hides his face every time he sees me coming, but whose struggle to survive keeps present in my mind the reality that life is fragile and short, but worth the fight.
I have others too, but I really want to tell you about M. . . . who, after today, will be fondly referred to as ‘Pélé.’
A couple of years ago, M. was in a motorcycle accident which caused an incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). That means, he some use of some muscles from mid-chest down, but not all. And even some of those are super weak.
M.’s doctor asked me to see him to give him a cushion for his wheelchair, as he has been admitted to the hospital for a pressure wound. But according to my French-to-Hausa translator, who talked to his Hausa-to-Tamajeq translator, he doesn’t have a wheelchair.
Instead, he pointed beneath his hospital bed.
Much to my surprise, there, under the mattress, I found the metal frame (and some wooden supports where the metal broke down) of a BEDSIDE COMMODE! You know, the toilet-chair that you find in medical supply stores, long-term-care facilities, and OT gyms. Except, the seat was missing.
I stared at it.
Then looked back at him.
‘Ban gani ba’ I said (I don’t understand).
‘Tafiya’ he answered (walking).
‘Ama, ban gani ba’ I repeated (but, I don’t understand).
‘TA-FI-YA’ he slowly said again, as if it was the actual words I was stumped on.
Eventually he understood my confusion and made his way to the edge of the bed to demonstrate.
His brother place the commode-turned-walker in front of him. He placed his hands then swung his body into a standing position.
With one swoop, he had lifted the commode and threw it slightly ahead of him, levered his body upward on the armrests and took a step. He turned toward me and flashed me a toothy smile. My eyes were as big as his upper arm muscles.
The problem with his current commode-setup is that it’s rather short, and therefore difficult to walk. I thought, at first, about reminding him of the other obstacles to the ambulation process that he was facing . . . but decided to play the optimist for once.
When I arrived a year ago, I was given half a dozen metal walkers that I was asked to use or get rid of. I figured one would be the perfect height for M.
I walked into the room and his eyes lit up as if he had seen The Tree in Rockefeller Center for the first time. He couldn’t get up fast enough.
But his arms aren’t used to the new position. And since we OT’s don’t actually work for a living, but play all day long, I decided M. needed a little football (that’s soccer for all you Americans) in his therapy session.
The problem with my master plan was that the new-to-him walker has a bar pretty low to the ground, so even if I bowled a strike, when he ‘kicked’ the ball it hit the bar and bounced right back at him.
The only way it was going to work was if the walker was behind him. I pulled out a stool.
‘Sit’ I commanded in Hausa. He looked at me, puzzled, but obeyed. I lifted the walker above him, turned it, and wedged it between him and his bed.
‘Okay, stand up.’
He placed his hands on the backwards handles, shot a concerned look that conveyed his doubt, and raised his body.
The father of the boy in the bed next to him gently rolled the ball toward M. as initiated his triceps and lifted his body.
With all his might he activated his weak hip flexors and whipped his right foot forward.
The ball sprang back toward his neighbor’s father.
We all cheered!
‘Akwai Pélé!’ (There’s Pélé!) I shouted.
M. beamed with satisfaction and pride.
The ball was rolled again, and this time his kick was a little more accurate.
‘Olé, olé, olé, olé, olé, olé!’ I started to sing.
And before I knew it, the three other patients in M.’s room joined in!