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Patience and Understanding Help a Client Recover

My physical therapist made sure that I never felt like a failure even when I couldn’t do what I thought I should be able to on a given day.

When VNSNY physical therapist Patricia V. arrived at the home of Evelyn*, a middle-aged woman recovering from hip replacement surgery, she found someone who was both highly independent and very insecure. With a history of painful back problems and spinal surgery, Evelyn was determined to push herself toward a full recovery, but at the same time she worried that she wasn’t up to the task.

“During one early visit, she started crying,” recalls Patricia. “When she apologized to me, I told her that it was perfectly okay.” Thanks to Patricia’s readiness to understand and accept what Evelyn was going through, a bridge of trust quickly formed between patient and therapist.

“Evelyn is a professional woman, used to being very self-sufficient,” adds Patricia. “I knew that it wasn’t easy for her, being confined to her home and relying completely on others.” Day by day, Patricia helped Evelyn improve her strength and mobility, not only in the area affected by her joint replacement surgery but also overall. A journalist by profession, Evelyn wanted to know the nature and purpose of each exercise, and Patricia was happy to oblige. “She told me it was her personality to want know everything,” says the therapist. “I got very used to it. I always like to explain what I’m doing anyway.”

Over her 20 years as a physical therapist, including the past nine with VNSNY, Patricia says she’s learned the importance of building personal relationships with each client and being sensitive to their physical and emotional state. In particular, Patricia used great patience when it came to extending Evelyn’s physical boundaries—aware that this was important to her progress, but that Evelyn was also anxious about falling short of expectations. “She was concerned about whether she would be able to accomplish each exercise, so I would push her subtly. When she had done a certain number of repetitions, I’d lightly say, ‘How about five more? I know you can do it!’”

“Patricia was nuanced in her approach, and very attuned to where I was both physically and emotionally,” agrees Evelyn. “Recovering from hip replacement surgery is not a straight line of progress—it’s more like climbing a jagged incline. Patricia knew when to push me to do more reps with a humorous approach, and when to say ‘Let’s take it easier today,’ knowing that my body needed a day to step back before forging ahead again.”

To help lessen Evelyn’s anxiety, Patricia also suggested she do some relaxation exercises. On days when her patient felt discouraged, the therapist would point out how far she had come since starting therapy. Over several weeks, Evelyn progressed to walking indoors without assistance, including up and down stairs, and was also covering increasing distances outside her home with the help of a cane.

“By the start of the fourth week, she was flourishing,” says Patricia. “At one point she turned to me and said, ‘I’m really doing it!’”

After five weeks of working together, Evelyn transitioned to outpatient therapy, well on her way to being “stronger and in better shape” than before her surgery. “Patricia made sure that I never felt like a failure even when I couldn’t do what I thought I should be able to on a given day,” she adds. “I can’t tell you how much that meant.”

* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.

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