A Day as a Physical Therapy Volunteer

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As usual, John is late. Because the other two Physical Therapists (PTs) are busy on their rounds, I just wait, sitting on the therapy tables reading the assorted pamphlets that are available to the patients. Every part of the body is represented in these books on the shelf. A slight humming sound comes from the air conditioner. The freshly waxed tile floor reflects the light that shines from the ceiling tract lights.

Since I am a volunteer, the lowest on the totem pole of health care, I have no specific duties. Mainly, I observe the work of the PTs. I also assist in cleaning the immaculate therapy room. As I wash down the tables with ammonia, trying not to inhale too many fumes, a Dr. Riddel is paged over the hospital intercom. Then someone else is paged, "Thomas Lykins to front desk. Thomas Lykins to front desk." Front desk actually means office, and usually social workers are paged to clear up some problem.

I also stock the linen closet. Every patient who lies on the big brown therapy table has to be on a sheet with at least 2 or 3 towels nearby. The towels feel rough and course from years and years of reuse. Everything gets the ammonia treatment, including the silver parallel bars, the whirlpool and the giant rubber gym balls that are used with patients who have bad backs.

Suddenly, the door swings open and all of the sounds from the nearby emergency room flood into the room. John has returned from his lunch break. He brings a patient to the gym to work on the bars. Hunched in her wheelchair, staring at the ground, her gray hair a mess, she shakes slightly. I think, "Can’t the PTs feel the coldness in this room? Maybe their white lab coats keep them warm."

John says, "Paige, this is Mrs. Meyer. She is going to walk the bars today." He asks, "Aren’t you, Mrs. Meyer?"

All that Mrs. Meyer can do is mumble "Yes, I hope." Mrs. Meyer had a stroke, her second. John tells me privately so that she can’t hear. She seems to be in a state of confusion about where she is and who we are.

John wheels Mrs. Meyer to the silver parallel bars and helps her stand. Slowly talking very quietly, he assures her that he will not let her fall, if she can’t balance herself. I stand behind her, as instructed by John.

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