Feature: Setting patients on road to recovery

E09052N Adrian Brown is helped on the parallel bars by physiotherapist Kirsty Koster.
E09052N Adrian Brown is helped on the parallel bars by physiotherapist Kirsty Koster.

MOST people will have had some experience of physiotherapy. Our Herald reporter certainly has. However, as he found out, the physio department at the DGH is about far more than sprained ankles and tubigrips.

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HAVING spent a good few Saturdays and Sundays playing football I am no stranger to hospital physio departments.

Broken hands, damaged ligaments, a dislocated and broken knee have contributed to more treatment than I could ever hope to pay back in National Insurance contributions.

Within ten minutes of arriving at the DGH, having been shown a stack of gym equipment and a heated hydrotherapy pool, it is pretty obvious that, as a patient, I have barely dipped my toe into the raft of services the team provides.

Lloyd Barker, the therapy lead for urgent care at the DGH, explained there are more strings to his colleagues’ collective bow than just treating sports injuries.

“We have different specialist teams for different conditions,” he said.

“There are physios who work with respiratory problems, orthopaedic patients, neurological issues as well as the muscular and skeletal teams most people will have come in contact with.

“There is a lot of work we do here which people do not realise or would not associate with physio.

“With a lot of patients who come to the DGH, we are involved from day one and often that early involvement is key to helping them recover.”

An example is the way experts from physio will often be called to help clear patients airways when they arrive – particularly in instances where someone may be struggling to breath.

This can be done with the help of complex breathing equipment or simply re-positioning a patient and leaving gravity to clear any phlegm the person would ordinarily have coughed out.

The on-ward help does not stop there. Kirsten Mitchell is an expert in respiratory physiotherapy who works almost exclusively with intensive care.

She helps those who are temporarily bed-ridden to keep their joints ticking over, warding off potential muscle wastage while keeping their chest clear.

“It is important to keep people active in that way because keeping them healthy helps them get better quicker but more than that it is good for them psychologically.

“When you are in intensive care for a long time, just getting out of bed for a few minutes can give you a boost.

“It is good for the patient to be able to recognise improvement in their condition and can help keep spirits up.”

Living proof is Adrian Brown. A former professional boxer who once ran his own gym, he is busy getting stuck in to his rehab work in the hospital’s gym – recently refurbed after a donation from the Friends of the DGH.

Adrian is not well enough to go home, but he has his sights firmly set on leaving his hospital bed sooner rather than later.

“The people here are great – I cannot begin to say how much they are helping me,” he says from his perch on an exercise bike-like contraption designed for people who need to use a wheelchair.

“Doing this work will help me to get home quicker.

“The more effort you give, the more you will recover.

“I just want to be able to get home and walk my little dog Tilly. Getting back home and getting better will help me feel like a man again.

“Without the help of these people, I would not make it.”

Adrian may be doing his dogged determination a disservice, but his point is valid.

The DGH physio team play a vital role in the treatment of patients, often from shortly after they come through the door until long after they are discharged.

The team can be just as active with people suffering from neurological problems or brain injuries. Karen Poole, the principal physiotherapist, explains how important physio is in treating stroke patients.

“With the way we work here we are thinking about getting stroke patients on the unit within a matter of hours.

“The physio team is already up there so can get to work as soon as the patient is ready.

“Once the stroke has happened it is important to keep the neural pathways working. We have the ability for neuroplastic connections to improve or deteriorate, so it important to get people in the right position.

“We are trying to keep the connections alive.”

Clearly, the more connections maintained, the better the patient’s chances of making a recovery, and treatment can be as simple as changing the way the person is laying down.

It is an approach which is replicated for a range of other brain injuries.

In fact, for all patients – regardless of their injuries – the approach is the same.

“No matter how poorly someone is when they come in we are thinking about how they can walk out,” said Karen.

“If we can help stretch a muscle or improve a joint it could be the difference between someone being able to sit or stand.”