The Way of the Wheelie (Physio Therapy After 18 for People with Physical Disabilities)

There’s many gaps in services everywhere in the Service Industry, but this blog isn’t about everywhere, it’s about wheelies. A glaring gap in services for people with physical disabilities is the way therapy ends abruptly after the individual turns 18. This means that after this kid has spent his or her whole life bucking-up-buttercup and listening to people tell them to “stop fooling around and do your exercises,” They are just set free. Like that, they enter late adolescence, with a high school diploma (maybe), and permission to be lazy for the rest of their days. It’s just so…sudden. In case you’re curious, here’s a chart depicting physio throughout a wheelie’s life:

Age Phase Result
2-10 yrs “Physio is fun. If you have a good attitude about it, we’ll play Barbies/eat icecream/watch Magic School Bus afterwards.” My mom, everyday. Woohoo! Physio is my ticket to fun. I’ll practice sitting up if you throw watching Big Comfy Couch into the mix.
11-15 So, physio is actually a bit pointless. I mean, I try really hard and my butt still sticks out. And I still can’t walk. God, this is dumb. My parents tricked me. Fine, I’m here, but I hate this and I hate you and I’ll be less grumpy about this if it means missing math class. Then I’ll do as many gimpy squats as you like.
16-18 Maybe this means I can actually have abs. Worth a shot, right? Wait, you mean Range of Motion exercises aren’t for abs, they’re to keep me limber? Hmmmmm.
18-forever Woah, I’m free, I never have to pretend i’m riding an imaginary bike ever again. Why am I so out of breath? Why am I so sleepy? How come I feel 45?

I can see how you might think I’m exaggerating in terms of being “cut off” regarding physio after 18–I mean, it seems nonsensical, right? It’s not like i was cured from eating wheaties, or finally figured out how to clone my physio therapist, I simply just grew up.

And for a year or so, laziness was a great freedom I felt I’d earned through enduring years of boring stretches and embarrassing exposures of my physical limitations. I was content to sit, perfectly still, with no physio examining my muscle contractures or asking me to fight through my spasms. I didn’t have to try and “sit up straight” while my asshole therapist pushed me over ever so slightly. There were no floor mats for me to get stuck in mid-log roll. No cold, plastic “therapy balls” for me to fall off of ever-so-uncoordinatedly. It seemed heavenly, until I realized I wanted to make the most of my self while i was still young.

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These therapy balls are part of a balanced family.

 

Getting on-track to my “physical best” was easier said than done. At 21, I didn’t have a family doctor to refer me to a physio, so I went to the campus doctor and they told me that’d i’d have to have some injury or other “fixable in 6 visits” muscle ailment.  It was a dead-end, CP can hardly be improved, never mind fixed in 6 sessions.

Across the hall from the physio therapists who never really help anyone was the gym. Through the glass windows, I saw a pack of buff turds with iPods and tight v-necks and watched them bounce around on the ellipticals, swinging their butts up stairs made of air. I wanted that.

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Soon after that, I found someone who called themselves a personal trainer. I told her about my disability, and she agreed to assess what i could do at the gym, and train me from there. She had slick, spikey grey hair and seemed to have a general desire to help. But for all her want, we just couldn’t find any machines that i could access independently.

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I never did find a gym or exercise routine (anti-climatic stories are all the rage) that offered me the same healthy challenge as all my physio in my formative years. As of now, I swim when i can, but I hope that I can work out something more concrete in the future, though I’m not sure anything of that nature exists.

Things that Might Soften The Blow:

In a world where wheelies are more than society’s representation of inevitable tragedy and illness, a few solutions might be offered:

1. Adult Physio Groups: In Kristen’s perfect lil wheelie utopia, this looks like a group of 8-10 wheelies interested in physio, with two physio therapist facilitators that lead the group. Group members could create individual and collaborate goals, steps to achieving those goals, and perhaps discuss issues, barriers, and personal struggles with exercises.

Online Accountability Groups. The two major advantages of the internet are anonymity (even if it’s an illusion), and accessibility. This might mean that people have the confidence to express concerns and are given equal chance to participate, even if their physical challenges prevent them from leaving their house.

Suggestions on what else can be done? I love them. Email me.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, I was just talking to friends in the health care and social work industry about how disappointed I am in the complete lack of support disable adults receive in either improving, maintaining or slowing the progression of disability through physiotherapy.

    As an individual with a slow progressing form of muscular dystrophy, only diagnosed at 17, I never had physiotherapy as an option. As my condition progressed and I required the use of a power chair I was given the opportunity for one on one physio. Unfortunately it was a temporary thing of 3 to 4 sessions at the Rehab Centre with someone who didn’t even know what muscular dystrophy was. I was to take the impossible and taxing routine home and do it myself. Combine this with getting showered, dressed, daily tasks and attending university, I was setup to fail. Setup to fail in a healthcare system within a society that has systemic issues with lack of institutional and social supports for the disabled. Compounding these systemic issues is the fact that the current Canadian government has just recently slashed health care funding to the Provinces by $36 billion and shut down the Health Council.

    I for one would sign up immediately for your utopian exercise group, unfortunately inspiration porn would likely have to be deployed to get charity funding, instead of funding that should be provided by right in any sensible social democracy with so called ‘universal’ health care.

    • Hey Blaine,
      You certainly raise some interesting (albeit sad) points. Reading about how a person uneducated around your specific disability was given to you to assess and advise you made me empathize greatly with your situation. The thing that’s so difficutlt to wrap my head around is that someone with a progressive disability who relies on activity in differing amounts to maintain ability, is treated the same as someone with a non-progressive disability or an ablebodied person. This is an outright injustice, as I’m sure you’ve thought/felt many times.
      As far as cuts to cuts, I was unaware of the recent ones. Someone was telling me just last week that over 800 000 bucks has been newly aloted to the Developmental Services sector, so I had my hopes up for a minute.
      My opinion is that money will only come from an attitudinal change, which feels like an uphill battle to nowhere sometimes.
      I hope that despite your struggle you are able to keep searching.

  2. I just got back into exercising. With my disability, I can ride a exer-cycle and do a couple of mat moves. It’s not a lot, more like just barely anything, but my energy level is better. As it is with you, it’s all range of motion exercises so I’m still fat, but fat with a little more energy.

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