When the PT becomes the Patient

Flashback to the middle of January, I’m flying down the slopes for the first time, feeling like I’m finally getting the hang of this skiing thing, until I wasn’t. All the sudden I found myself out of control and in a matter of seconds I was face down in the snow. Deer Valley: 1, Me: 0.

A few days later I found out I would need surgery to repair my broken collarbone. I was so upset thinking about all the things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t workout like I used to, couldn’t play lacrosse, couldn’t shoot hoops, couldn’t shower or brush my hair like a normal human being. I remember my first question to the surgeon was when can I start running and lifting again? He was quick to remind me that once my plate and screws were removed, I would have holes in my bone that would need time to calcify and remodel. He continued to tell me I would need to be more careful once the hardware was removed because if I were to fall on my shoulder soon after that my clavicle would “most likely shatter”. I also asked about playing sports and he quickly shut down that idea by telling me he did not think I should chance that until close to the end of the year. Hearing this was a lot for me to take in and not the way I wanted to start 2020. I had so many plans for the spring and summer-I wanted to play in a lacrosse league, sign up for a tough mudder, the list goes on.

Fast forward to 6 weeks after my surgery when I FINALLY got out of my sling and cleared for PT that consisted of ROM as tolerated and a weight limit of 5# for the next 6 weeks. I remember first trying to lift my arm above my head in his office (in supine) and my surgeon being very happy with my motion but I was not. As a life long athlete I could not wrap my head around the fact that lifting my arm above my head was so hard, not to mention painful. I was always the type of athlete that pushed through pain. I never told my coaches or trainers when I was hurt. I never wanted to sit out or be seen as weak so I pushed through hip labral tears, concussions, ankle sprains, etc. (which I now realize is the extremely naive thought process of a 20 year old)

Needless to say, I have been having this internal battle with myself throughout my rehab so far. On one hand, the PT in me 100% understands why things feel the way they do. I understand the healing process and how muscles atrophy. I realize that when your arm has been in a sling and immobile for 6 weeks, moving into new positions is going to be challenging, uncomfortable, and painful. I know this is normal and that it’s ok to feel this way. I know that my progress won’t be linear and that too is normal. The PT in me can see how I am progressing and sees all the little improvements I am making in range of motion and strength. I know that as I continue to expose myself to these positions again my tolerance will improve and I will get stronger and be able to continue to do more. 

On the other hand, the athlete and competitor in me just wants to be better now. The athlete in me sees the end goal, being able to do all the athletic things I used to be able to without pain and the same way I always have. The competitor in me thought I would be cleared of the sling and be 100% day 1. The athlete in me, who pushed through injuries, endured 2 a days in all the elements, pushed through exhaustion on the field/court cannot understand why those things were doable, but standing and lifting my arm up to 90 degrees seemed impossible.

I have been humbled by this experience and forced to remember how important the little goals are in PT. Focusing on the day to day changes and acknowledging these small victories rather than dwelling on the fact that you aren’t “there yet”. A week after ditching the sling, I couldn’t lift my arm above 60 degrees actively and after a week or so of rehab I was able to get to 140 with minimal compensations and a lot less pain. Now at about 4 weeks of being sling free, I have full ROM with minimal compensation and no pain.  now I can get to about 140 with minimal compensations and a lot less pain. A couple weeks ago, putting any kind of force into my shoulder was very uncomfortable and my arm was so weak it would shake immediately. Now, I can put some weight through it for about 30 seconds to a minute before it shakes. A couple week ago, running made my arm and shoulder feel achy at around a mile and a half and now I can run closer to 6 before it starts to feel achy. If I constantly stress on the fact that I am not 100%, not only would I be negative all the time about my recovery, but I would miss out on all the small things I am now able to do that I couldn’t a week ago. This is something I will make sure I do as a PT with my patients-do my best to keep them positive and remember to cheer for them and all their small victories.

Another major thing I have had to overcome during this process so far is frustration. Even when I do acknowledge my improvements, it’s still frustrating for me to struggle to lift a 1 pound dumbbell or not be able to do certain lifts that normally would be simple. Knowing that I am improving does not make things any less frustrating. It’s frustrating that I have to concentrate so much when raising my arm up to do anything. It’s still frustrating that reaching to open a cabinet is still uncomfortable. It’s frustrating to have to rely on people to help me with simple tasks, especially when I’m not used to asking for help. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be frustrated. I’ve been frustrated a lot and I’m sure I will keep doing so throughout the rest of my recovery, but you can’t stay frustrated. Instead, use the frustration to keep bettering yourself. Rehab is not linear, there will be good and bad days and that is all normal. This experience has really opened my eyes to the fact that there will be many ups and downs throughout recovery,  but you have to continue to trust the process, take things one day at a time and stay positive remembering all the little improvements are adding up to get you to your end goal.

I’m not gong to sugar coat it, this whole experience for me has been extremely difficult. I’ve really relied on my faith in everything happening for a reason and I’ve tried my best to find some positivity. The silver lining for me has been simply going thought the rehab process myself as a patient. I have wanted to be a physical therapist for as long as I can remember. I have always had a passion for wanting to help people and have always loved how much movement and exercise can really help improve someone’s life. I’ve seen so many of my friends go through injuries and work hard in PT to come back 100%. After going through an injury on my own, I think it is safe to say I have an even deeper appreciation for the rehab process and a better ability to connect and truly understand my patients. Oh and also learned I am NOT a skiier

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