Steve Hunt: Grateful to Inova Mount Vernon Rehab Team
"Because I am an idiot." That was my answer when each healthcare professional asked me how I ended up in the hospital. In September 2017, I dropped a medium size pine tree on my head that I had cut down and had become hung up with a smaller tree. I have no memory of it, but it left me laying on the ground paralyzed from the neck down. By the time the first responders arrived, 2-3 hours later and shortly after my wife found me, I could move my left leg and left arm at the shoulder and elbow. A week and a half and a surgery later, I was rolled into Inova Mount Vernon Hospital Inpatient Rehabilitation Center. That is where my return to life took flight.
The rehabilitation began the next day when a therapist with an upbeat and hopeful attitude entered my room. It gave me an immediate sense that things were going to get better. Ashley was my occupational therapist and Sarah was my physical therapist. Three sessions a day I looked forward to seeing them because it meant that I was going to have more use of my hands or to be closer to walking. I have a wonderful memory from before they taught me to stand and use a walker to pivot to my wheelchair: A slim, but very pregnant, Ashley practically performed a fireman’s carry to move me into my wheelchair. I was afraid I was going to break her, but she did not hesitate and the next thing I knew, I was in the wheelchair.
And let me tell you about my wheelchair...Since my right arm and hand were more affected by the temporary paralysis, Sarah taped a tube on the end of the right brake handle to give me more leverage. Then, to help me grasp the part of the wheel used to move the chair, she connected yellow tubing with plastic red straps with broad label areas on the ends, to provide a better grip. I had the slickest wheelchair on the floor! Then Sarah found weightlifting gloves online to help me grip the wheels even more. That was the common above-and-beyond attitude of the therapists I experienced.
They helped me to set intermediate goals aimed at my ultimate goal. My goal was to walk. They set the short-term goals that would get me out of the bed into a wheelchair, then to a platform walker, then to a cane and finally to walking unassisted. They were open to me attempting the next level while cautiously ensuring my safety at all times.
As I healed, at what multiple therapists referred to as a miraculous rate, the therapists adjusted my therapy to continually push me to the next level of capability. They were constantly thinking of new ways to exercise my body to wake up my joints, reestablish communication to my brain, and strengthen the muscles. A couple of therapists told me they had even thought of new exercises for me while they were home or at the gym. When they celebrated my reaching a new level of capability, it was a genuine expression of joy.
With three sessions per day, I was periodically scheduled with other therapists than my primary therapist. I enjoyed working with all of them; really, all of them. It also gave me an opportunity to see my primary therapist working with other patients. It revealed how well they adjust their approach to the needs and attitude of each patient. As I was aggressively pushing myself to improve, my therapists carefully watched over me as I made each attempt. With other less motivated patients, they encouraged or gently pushed; whatever it took to move that patient closer to being ready for the environment waiting for them outside of the hospital.
Even the technicians who helped the therapists were great. They would give up part of their lunch time or stay late after the rest of the staff had left to connect and disconnect me to and from an exercise bike. They were enthusiastic, competent and extremely helpful.
My experience at Inova Mount Vernon Inpatient Rehabilitation was so good I opted to do my outpatient therapy there even though there were many rehab options much closer to home. It was a continuation of the same excellent environment and superb therapists. The support people doing the scheduling could not have been more helpful and nicer to work with. Even the lady who kept the gym so clean was supportive.
It was clear that with their professionalism and technical skill the therapists could have been working anywhere in the therapy universe. They could have chosen a less challenging or a higher visibility and higher paying therapy profession. Spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation is often measured in very small improvements. It takes a special person to perform so well in that environment.
Five weeks after being rolled into the rehab floor at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, I stood up unaided from the requisite wheelchair and walked using a cane to my wife’s car. After outpatient rehab, I am walking without the cane, almost limp free. I have been driving since December and have been at work part-time since February. I can type (poorly) with both hands, but it was not that great before. I am slowly regaining the use of my right hand. In the Bible there are stories of Jesus telling a lame man to get up, take his mat, and walk. Until now my focus was on the medical miracle of the physical healing of the lame man. Now I see there was a second miracle; that his legs "knew" how to walk. I am very confident that God was responsible for my rapid physical healing. I am so grateful that God used the amazing therapists and techs at the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital Rehabilitation Center to teach me how to use that healing to regain my life.
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