The Physio Heroes
Friday 24th February, 2017
I have written before about how much Marc looked forward to his daily visit from the physiotherapists. Not only were they fresh faced and happy to see him each day, they symbolised the route to his escape from the hospital, and he knew it. I rarely came across them as they usually saw him in the mornings, but I remember the first time I met Katie, Marc's main physio. She greeted me politely and began to talk about the work she and the other physios were doing with Marc. It felt very strange to speak to someone who was working so closely with my husband and yet know her so little.
I think the physios liked visiting Marc. He was a very enthusiastic patient, mainly because he was extremely eager to regain his mobility and get out of the hospital. He didn't complain, he worked as hard as his weakened body would allow him to and he pushed himself to achieve a tiny bit more every day. Again, to begin with I think they did a lot of simply lifting him out of the bed on to the chair, allowing his body to adjust to a sitting position and the different muscles this utilised. Each day they would increase the amount of time he spent out of bed in the chair. he was given long, stretchy, colourful pieces of rubber which he had to pull to strengthen his arm and leg muscles. The physios showed him how to use them to do different exercises, supervised him while he got the hang of them and checked that the supportive pads his legs were placed on were doing their job to ensure that the blood supply to his feet was sufficient.
I met Katie fairly soon after Marc moved into Ward A5, and Marc was fairly immobile at this point. It surprised me, therefore, that she immediately began talking about Marc getting out of hospital. She was the first person to do so with any kind of seriousness, and I appreciated the optimism that this gave me. It also, however, absolutely terrified me. She talked about what Marc might need when he came home, mentioning a bed located downstairs, a wheelchair, a shower seat. These were all alien concepts to me, and while I was massively looking forward to Marc coming home, I was also given a glimpse of the kind of support Marc would require, and the fact that there would mostly only be myself there to cater for him.
Still, she reassured me that it would not be for some time yet, and for the time being, I tried simply to take in what she was saying and look on the bright side. She also vaguely mentioned the idea of Marc being transferred out of hospital and into some kind of respite care until he was stronger, explaining that he was not ill enough to require a hospital place but perhaps too weak to manage at home to begin with. The idea of this gave me even more to think about, and the prospect of visiting Marc somewhere else, possibly even further away from the hospital, was not one I relished.
But the major work was going on with Marc each day while no one but the physios were there to witness it. I remember some of the nurses on the ward commenting to me, when they had the time, how well Marc was doing with his physio, and once he was on A5 he did seem to make major progress quite quickly. He was given special surgical shoes for the first time, and allowed to move a few steps with a zimmer frame, laughing at how he felt like an OAP. His feet, still recovering from the massive damage caused by the deprivation of blood during the initial stages of his illness, frequently bled during these walking sessions, and it was a running joke between Marc and Katie how she regularly 'made his feet bleed'.
It sounds horrific, but he couldn't always feel what was happening (the nerves in his feet were so badly damaged) and I think that anyone who works in a hospital needs a healthy sense of humour to be able to deal with the awful sights they see each day. Luckily Marc can take a joke as well as the next man, and I imagine he made fun of Katie as much as she and the others teased him during their different sessions together. They became quite friendly, and I honestly believe that she was a major part in him wanting to wake up each day while he languished on A5, unable to do anything for himself unless the physios were there to support him. Katie was planning her wedding at the time, and I know she and Marc talked a lot about it while they spent time together, because she and her fiance were to be married at the same hotel that Marc and I were. I think it made him feel connected to her and helped with the exercises, as they could distract themselves while they chatted about Katie's wedding plans. It allowed Marc to relive our wedding a little, a happy time for him, and this must have taken his mind off how difficult the physio sessions could sometimes be for him.
One small step...
The distance between Marc's bed and the door to the bay his bed was situated in was probably around six of my usual steps. I distinctly remember the day when Marc managed to get to the door and back to his bed with the assistance of the zimmer frame. It was momentous! Twelve little paces, but he managed them by himself, and the freedom promised by this tiny walk must have felt enormous. The famous phrase 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' comes to mind: if he could manage twelve steps today, think of what he could be coping with in a week, a month, three months! The fondness with which Marc was regarded was clear from the pride with which the nurses on duty reported his progress to me that day. I didn't even see Katie, but mentally wished her a thousand thank yous for giving Marc the confidence and building his stamina until he was able to manage that tiny journey.
The hardest thing about the weekends on A5 for Marc was the fact that the physios didn't work. From Monday to Friday he was pretty much guaranteed at least one physio session per day, two if he was lucky. But on Saturdays and Sundays, when Katie and her colleagues didn't work, he pined for them. On the weekend of the bank holiday in August he had to manage three whole days with no physio, and it nearly killed him! I could always tell during our visits at the weekend that he had not had a session that day, as his mood reflected it. He had almost become dependent on the physio: he really needed to feel like he was making progress each day, no matter how small, and having no physio session made him feel like he had wasted a day.
I also remember him telling me once that he had missed his physio on a weekday, because he had fallen asleep during the morning when he was due to see Katie. When she passed by later he called her over and asked why she hadn't been to see him. She explained that he had been fast asleep and that sleep was as vital to his healing process as the exercises, but he was still really annoyed about it. This turned out to be a good lesson: even now Marc gets tired if he doesn't allow himself the proper amount of time to rest each day. Sometimes he has to go to bed with the children at 8pm because his body simply can't take the build up of tiredness over a few late nights in a row. He is nowhere near as bad as he was when he was in hospital, but I think his body now needs rest more than it ever did, and this was the first sign of it. By leaving him to rest when they did that day, the physios were listening to Marc's body, which was clearly telling them he needed the morning off. It didn't stop him being frustrated though.
Writing this I feel like I'm doing Katie and her colleagues an injustice. I want to be able to write more about them. I know how much they did for Marc when he really needed them to. They helped him in ways that I could never have done and he is now able to walk and be completely mobile as a direct result of their work with him. But whereas on ITU I knew the staff well due to the hours and hours I spent there, in A5 I was barely there for an hour each day and never when the physios were on duty. So this post will have to suffice to tell that part of Marc's story which was almost invisible to me.
Be certain though, that all the physios who worked with Marc both in ITU and on the ward are definitely among those other hospital staff placed on the ever groaning shelf in my head marked, simply, 'Heroes'.