When my husband, Michael, was confined to a wheelchair, for seven days he was immersed in a rigorous program of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and group therapy led by a licensed clinical social worker. All this happened when he qualified for treatment in our HMO’s rehabilitation facility. He had a written schedule that hung in a plastic sleeve from his wheelchair, and he was responsible for being at the right place at the right time. He had the benefit of excellent medical staff, who carefully selected and tracked his programs and therapies, and his admitting doctor oversaw his treatment and progress. Although he had a regular hospital bed in a four-man ward, he was rarely in it except to sleep at night and, sometimes, to rest for a couple of hours in the afternoon. He took his meals in a group room and participated in the activities and movies that were provided for patients during their free time. I was able to visit him whenever I wanted, but because the facility was quite a distance from home, I didn’t come every day. I was able to take some time off for myself, secure in knowing that he was well taken care of.
Michael got more cheerful while he was there. The hospital was laid out to accommodate wheelchairs, and the wide hallways made it easy for him to wheel around to the various rooms.
“I thought I was getting better,” he told me when I visited one day. “But the doctor tells me my MS isn’t disappearing. It’s just easier for me here. Everything’s laid out for a wheelchair, and I have all kinds of support.”
He did make progress, however, and as his functioning improved, he saw new possibilities opening up for him. His balance and walking got better. He became independent in upper-body dressing, only needing help with pants, socks, and shoes, and his confidence improved. Physical therapy increased his strength and range of motion, and when he came home, he had an exercise program designed to maintain his gains.
Two caring women in the occupational therapy department got Michael approved for a customized, electric power chair. It had mid-wheel drive, which made it highly maneuverable, and Michael loved it. When he took it out for a test drive in the parking lot and garage, he put it through its paces. The chair passed the test and, thanks in large part to Medicare (which Michael had received early due to his disability status), he was finally outfitted with what he needed.
While I was visiting him one day, the physical therapist asked Michael if he would like to stand up. “You bet!” he said. So, the physical therapist strapped Michael onto a standing board. This device gradually raised him from a prone position to almost 90 degrees.
The first thing he said when he was “standing” was “I want to hug my wife.”
I moved close and embraced him, and he put his arms around me. It was the first time we had held each other this way in years. I was a little self-conscious being in a room full of people but feeling the full length of his body against mine was sublime. I closed my eyes, rested my head on his chest, and savored the moment. We held each other until the therapist came to crank Michael down.
I highly recommend checking out rehab possibilities if your loved-one qualifies. For Michael, it was definitely time well spent.