Client Highlight: Sara

Author: Justine Cosman, PT, DPT : Doctor of Physical Therapy, Business Owner, Associate Professor, and Blog Contributor. Explores common client questions and helps find solutions for every day functional health concerns, and then some. Loves empowering others, seeking adventure, and learning every day. Learn more about Justine on Google+.

Today, I introduce to you a dear client and friend that I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of her physical therapy. Sara sought treatment with me following three (yes, three!) car accidents. And let me stress to you, that Sara has demonstrated great motivation, strength and determination to overcome those unfortunate occurrences. Her story has inspired me and she agreed to share it so that hopefully it can inspire others to work to attain their own musculoskeletal health goals.

Let’s start with the 1st accident, which was soon to be our first meeting. It was fall of 2012, when Sara was walking across the street to go to the gym. A car turned, not seeing Sara, and struck her on the left side of her body, causing her to spin around on her heels. Intense pain increased dramatically in her left shoulder and forearm, prompting Sara to go to the ER. Needing to find relief from the symptoms, she was referred to a large hospital system for physical therapy, which, unfortunately, was disappointing. As Sara recounted her story to me, I was frustrated by her experience: 30 minute appointment times that she reports her PT was consistently 5 minutes late and then she was left with a sheet of exercises 5 minutes earlier than the end of her appointment time with little to no explanation of what to do, how to do it, or why to do it. Furthermore, she expressed that, not only was her shoulder and arm hurting, but her left hip was painful as well – her PT did nothing to address her concerns. I personally do not know the reason for this, but believe wholeheartedly that this IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be the norm for physical therapy care.

Fortunately, Sara is a wonderful self-advocate and she looked for another physical therapy provider, where she happened upon my schedule. Her case was complex and she worked with me to continue investigating which tissues were causing her pain and reduced function. During this time, Sara not only had to address her symptoms, but was also wrestling with her insurance company, as they did not want to cover services for a second physical therapy location, which delayed her treatment until the beginning of 2013. Progress was slow with delays and other life happenings, until we began addressing her back, which is where we made big progress. Sara was beginning to return to light gym activities and was becoming more comfortable at work, when the unexpected happened –

Accident #2 occurred in mid-2013. A woman ran a stop sign and t-boned Sara’s car on the driver’s side. Sara’s car was towed and she walked less than a mile back to her house. She had pain shooting down her left leg, which made it difficult to do what was once easier, like walk and go up and down steps. Once again, Sara returned to work with me and we wrapped up the first case to then focus on her left hip and leg pain. Little movements were difficult and Sara later expressed to me that it was extremely frustrating to have to re-learn these “simple” skills and to make such gradual changes to get there.

“Working with Justine was easy and encouraging – it was good to have a push when I was being lazy or having off days. There were times I was unable to realize my own progress, as I was not yet where I wanted to be. It was easy for me to dismiss the small changes, even though, as these accumulated they were great. I think it is easier for other people to witness and Justine helped me see the change.”

Sara imparted to me that one of her most memorable times was once she “graduated” to balancing on the bosu ball. It was wobbly to start, but it felt amazing to her to be able to hop up each week and see her stability improve. “Just being able to do it was like – yeah – and now I can do it without any movement at all.” Sara continued progressing steadily and was discharged after several months of physical therapy with her independent home exercise program.

It was with mixed feelings that I then saw Sara on my schedule again in mid-2014 for Accident #3. The lights were out at a cross section and a woman slammed into her car. Her partner drove her to the emergency room, as she had chest pain from the seat belt and significant upper back pain.

“That was so frustrating! Just a year before I had gotten back on my feet and had finished PT! Even worse, I no longer had a car and I felt like I was back at square one.”

Sara found some comfort in returning to me, as I was familiar with her case.

“My whole body hurt and it was difficult for me to identify what was happening because it was new for me. It was nice to have someone to structure what was okay during this difficult time. Moreover, it was helpful to learn about my injuries so that I could prevent the need for PT in the future – I had my own toolbox when I needed it. Sometimes it is hard to look at the end goal, and it was better to look at the next step instead. Setting smaller goals and looking at this moment now in a stepped, logical process was an encouragement. I found that during a time I felt I had little control, I could control my perspective and you all were really my guide to my path of healing.”

Recounting this story leaves me speechless and has allowed me to reflect on the journey Sara had been through with her care. Sara summed it up in a simple, yet heavy sentence:

“I went through 3 companies, 6 jobs, and 5 moves over the 3 year span and there was a lot happening. You were essentially my constant.”

I may have helped Sara, but she has also helped me – along with so many of my other clients. Every client who has the desire and will to work towards something better is what drives me to be a better provider/person and gives me such joy to come into the clinic.

Want to know more about Sara’s perspective on physical therapy and chronic pain? Interested to hear about what she is up to now? Check it out next week with Part 2 of Sara’s story!