“I can’t see, I can’t see!” An afternoon ride on December 23rd, 2009 would both change the life of my girlfriend Eliana as well as shift the way she viewed her role as a healthcare recipient. The following story is to show you that you deserve to always be heard, especially when it comes to your health!
It was the first day of Christmas break during her senior year in high school. Along with a group of friends, Eliana decided to go to a close friend’s home to ride snowmobiles.
Although having never driven one before, she drove her own, following closely behind her
friend through the woods. After some time, the team decided to turn around and head back towards the house. While on the trail back, Eliana attempted to make a turn on a slab of paved road and immediately lost control. Heading directly towards a tree, she managed to avoid it, only to hit another one head on within moments. The last thing she remembered was feeling the impact and being flown out of the seat, followed by moments of unconsciousness. As she slowly regained consciousness, Eliana’s friend rushed to her aid, as she stated, “I can’t see, I can’t see!” Everything was blurry; her right knee was in a lot of pain and her face stung due to being scraped up in the process. This was just the beginning of a long and frustrating road back to recovery.
A rush to the ER and some x-ray imaging wasn’t enough to prepare her for what would happen next. Seven physicians were to be visited before receiving the care she needed as a patient. The first few doctors Eliana visited had her ace bandage her knee, and instructed her to stay on crutches. After about a month, she went to an orthopedic specialist who looked at her x-rays, and informed her that she had fractured her patella (knee cap) and would require immediate surgery to place the pieces back together. The part that was both confusing and frustrating with this particular diagnosis was the fact that the physician repeatedly indicated that the fractured piece was broken off on the outside of the knee. Eliana insisted however, that her pain was on the inside of the knee, not the outside. It was here that Eliana began to feel as though she wasn’t being heard as a patient. As if what she had to contribute regarding what she felt, was seen as irrelevant.
Naturally, another physician was sought out. This doctor concluded that it would be best to place the injured leg in a full brace (thigh to calf) with crutches, without putting any weight on, or bending the right leg for 6-8 weeks. Daily activities such as getting ready, showering, and making food became a frustrating process. The pain was so great that she settled for sleeping on the couch each night because it was too painful to climb up to the room.
As she laid in bed one morning before school, without her leg brace on due to the frequent irritation of the brace, Eliana attempted to sit on the edge of the bed, being sure to keep her right leg straight. She made sure to support the back of her knee as she did so. Yet in the process, her knee suddenly dropped after not being bent for 5 weeks. An excruciating pain followed, leading to one last and 7th physician visit. Following some imaging, this physician informed Eliana that she had torn her medial meniscus (I will talk more about the meniscus in a later blog) when the knee suddenly bent. She had also lost a significant amount of muscle mass in her right leg, which was now almost half the size of the left leg.
The final doctor informed her that there was severe bone bruising on both sides of the
patella (knee cap), and that she should not have been in the leg brace to begin with. In fact, being in the leg brace, unable to bend and place any weight on her knee, hindered the healing process, making things worse. The physician continued on to say that she should have been placed in physical therapy shortly after the injury, and proceeded to refer Eliana to PT.
The physical therapist went on to listen to Eliana’s story, concerns and goals. From the final physician to the physical therapist, someone had finally taken the time to listen to her as a patient and as an individual. Her personal goal was to be able to walk for her high school graduation without the use of crutches. With the help of her physical therapist, that goal was accomplished a few weeks before her graduation! To this day, Eliana praises those last two professionals for allowing her to be heard!
This story has a very important takeaway for both patients and health professionals. No patient wants to hear that their process to recovery for a challenging injury or diagnosis, could have been an entirely different experience for the better. As frustrating and discouraging as it was to hear the news that most of her pain and the worst parts of her recovery process could have been avoided, Eliana felt a great sense of relief that someone understood her challenges and was willing to listen as well as construct a treatment process that was in her best interest, while also taking her considerations into account. That alone made a world of difference.
As a patient, you are greatly affected by healthcare decisions, so your life as well as your input, should always be taken into full account. As a recipient of healthcare, your ailments
and your goals for recovery matter. Your goals serve as an excellent motivator and navigator throughout your treatment process. As healthcare professionals, it is our job to make sure that you are heard. Your input should not be neglected. People are real, and their experiences are real. If that had been taken into account early on in the story above, a lot of distress, pain, immobility, and heartache would have been avoided. So don’t forget that you have a say in your health care as a recipient. Seek to be heard as well as to understand anything that appears confusing. If you want to hear more about the “voice of the patient”, click here. As physical therapists, our job is to first listen to you, work with you to construct appropriate goals for you, and finally develop a plan to achieve those goals. Be heard!
Thank You For Your Time!
My success and inspiration has come from the guidance of Greg Todd and the Smart Success Physical Therapy course! If you are a Physical Therapist or future Physical Therapist interested in leveling up, I would highly recommend being a part of the Smart Success Season 4! It has changed my life!
Free Content: Employer Interview, Social Media 101, Keys to Marketing
Joses Ngugi, SPT