Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Learning to be independent, again

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After nine weeks in the Health Sciences Centre, I have finally been transferred to the 5th floor of the Rehab Hospital.

During my last week in hospital I was sure taken on a roller coaster ride. On the one hand, the nurses and surgeons were eager and positive about getting me moved to rehab. Yet, on the other hand, I got a visit from someone from haematology who said that both my white and red blood cell count were very low and that it was possible that cancer treatments had destroyed my bone marrow's ability to produce white blood cells altogether.

This would mean that if I were to get an infection, it would be a very serious matter. This affected my mental state a great deal. They needed to test my bone marrow (a very painful procedure), which meant waiting again for more test results. They were hopeful, however, that there would be treatment available to me and were willing to let me go over to the rehab. Whew!

During my long stay at the hospital, the staff was outstanding and the care exemplary. More often than not, it was my impatience that caused me distress.

One of the more interesting things that I have found is that not all of the nurses are actually nurses. One Filipino nurse at HSC was actually a trained doctor in the Philippines, and my rehab nurse, Anastasia, was a doctor in Russia. (Coincidentally, Anastasia comes from St. Petersburg, the city in Russia where my parents are from.)

The reason they don't practise here is because Canada doesn't recognize foreign doctors' degrees and it costs a great deal of money and time to get accredited. Most of these people have families and a home to support. You would think that, with the shortage of doctors here, we could find a more streamlined and easier way for these well-trained people to practise medicine here!

One of the first things I noticed about the rehabilitation hospital was how old it is. Much of the equipment has not been updated (for example, commodes have heavy white metal frames that are rusting, instead of plastic material) and even the floors remind me, somehow, of the 1950s.

Now the rehabilitation hospital is not really a hospital. You are expected to be quite independent there from the word go. There is a doctor in charge of my overall ward and a nurse on staff to give medications and do dressings. But the main idea behind this place is to teach you new skills for your independence. No one does anything for you -- you have to ask.

When I first came to the rehab the individual team members (physiotherapy and occupational therapy) did a thorough assessment of my abilities to transfer from wheelchair to bed, to balance using a medicine ball, and they asked me questions about my health and about my past activities. Then they prioritized a treatment plan to meet specific goals.

Occupational therapy involves transferring techniques (from wheelchair to bed, etc.), dressing, operating a power wheelchair (I've never driven a car!), measuring me for a wheelchair and cushion (cushions cost up to $600), as well as assessing me for the type of bed that will be best for me.

In regards to physiotherapy, I need to show my flexibility on a mat, balancing, lifting myself, as well as arm, wrist and hand strength. The goal is to strengthen my upper body by strengthening muscles, as well as learning transferring techniques (for example, getting back into my wheelchair if I fall on the floor).

I have physiotherapy twice a day, Monday to Friday. In the morning I join a group of other amputees for 90 minutes of stretching and strength exercises. In the afternoon I lift weights (I can now lift up to 20 pounds) and work on the hand bicycle to help build the strength in my upper body.

Occupational therapy teaches methods of doing everyday activities such as dressing, transferring from wheelchair to toilet, etc. I must say that my transferring technique is quite good and I'm pleased to note that I have been testing out a power wheelchair, which I will be receiving this week. I've done quite well driving, except in elevators.

The rehab makes you work hard. The harder you work, the faster you will gain the skills you need to live independently -- and the sooner you will go home.

Nick Ternette, community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster, recently had his legs amputated and his teeth pulled as a result of an infection.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2009 A12

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