Have you ever heard someone say “There is a time and place for everything?” This concept of timing also applies to Rehab. Stroke and Brain injury can rob individuals of their most basic functions: rolling over in bed, sitting up, eating, dressing, bathing, walking and driving a car. It is the role of Occupational Therapy (OT) to facilitate independence with life’s most basic skills. There is no task too small or too big for OT to tackle . . . Or is there?
There is a mindset that can sometimes creep in during Rehab, which will hold some survivors back from reaching their full potential for independence. This mindset sounds something like this: “If I learn to do it with one hand, then I am giving up hope that my arm will comeback . . . So I will wait until I can do it the ’normal’ way. This mentality can find its way into more impactful life skills, such as driving or returning to work. The task of debunking this myth-this way of thinking, is one the biggest challenges for Occupational Therapy. It poses the biggest obstacle to goal achievement I have ever experienced in 20 years of practice.
The devastation of physical impairments on self-esteem is brutal. Arms and legs that no longer move at will, in effortless and seamless timing, is a reality that can be too great to accept. Rehab quickly focuses on trying to urge limbs down the recovery path. Days, weeks and months are spent trying to enable and facilitate movement. It is at this time where this mindset usually creeps in. For some, learning a one-handed technique to tie shoes, put on socks, or bathe, is simply asking them to give up hope. No amount of cajoling or encouragement could convince them that spending a few minutes of their therapy session practicing how to tie a one handed knot or learning the art of “compensation” to accomplish almost ANY two handed task in a one handed way, will work.
So we wait. Wait for acceptance that life will need to continue with or without full arm/leg recovery. How long will this take? Precious time ticks away. Experience tells us that the sooner someone becomes independent with basic life skills, the greater their chances of regaining life roles in the home and in the community are. So we wait-we wait for acceptance. Accepting that life will continue with or without your limb is a harsh reality, but once that acceptance has occurred-that is when the real healing will begin. Occupational Therapy has transformed lives of individuals who have understood that accepting this does not mean giving up hope. Success does not always mean you get 100% of your former self back; it means you succeed in spite of your obstacles and limitations.
Reach out to your occupational therapist. Let him or her know you are ready to take the world by storm-one simple task at a time! Why now? BECAUSE YOU CAN!
~Alice Petranek, OTR, CBIS