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Peter

PeterIn 1950 at the age of four I contracted polio which was followed by three years of intensive rehabilitation. By the age of 10 I returned to the community as one of many who had learnt to disguise physical disability. Some 40 years later at the age of 50 like many who hid themselves from medical support and advice, my endurance had started to wane. I had to reacquaint myself as being recognised as someone in the community who was managing a disability. By 2013, aged 63 years I have braces on both legs, use a ventilator at night due to weakened respiratory muscles, on the 'wait list' for a power chair and most significantly have undertaken the challenge of building a fully accessible home to ensure my future independence.

Over the years I have received assistance from a wide range of medical professionals but the quiet help that was constant was the role of an occupational therapist. The role of the occupational therapist (OT) is difficult to quantify. Occupational therapists tend to have many but short interventions in our lives.

I am sure that an OT kept a friendly eye on our family life ensuring that our family home was as adapted to my needs, and that my trolley bed got plenty of use. I worked with a physiotherapist to ensure that I had a parallel exercise bar in my back yard to strengthen my spine reducing the effects of scoliosis.

My next memory of an OT was not until a referral in 2005. I had been receiving rehab from 'overdoing the denial thing'. I had physically worn myself out trying to get fit without realising the damage I was doing to myself. For the next three months I was a hospital outpatient and received treatments from a neurologist, physiotherapist, speech therapist, psychologist, and a most wonderful occupational therapy department.

The OTs had a few challenges to work with as I denied home visits for as long as could. I used a walking stick only when visiting the hospital. It was only when I believed I had lost the ability to write and think that I finally accepted their help. I was living with continual exhaustion. I recall the anxiety I before a cognisance test. What if I had lost my ability to recall, what would I do ' vegetate?

With great apprehension I was given tests including following written directions to use a bending machine to make a wire coat hanger. I recall the great excitement as it almost looked like a coat hanger. But most importantly I remember the conversation afterwards. I needed to slow down and use aids and modify my environment if I was going to be able to regain a good and independent life style.

An appointment was made for a home visit. Hand rails were fitted in the bathroom and advice given on making my home work for me. I had advice on putting things that were often in use such as cups and commonly used items for food preparation are permanently located within easy reach. We had one other very important conversation about how I was managing with my work.

For a long time I had returned from work each day exhausted and would sit in my chair locked in my fatigue while the family worked around me. Was my working ' working for me or my family? How long would it be before I was back at the hospital physically weaker and with a bigger challenge to gain quality of life not just for me but also for my family?

In a way the decision had already been made for me I had been unable to work for some time due to an injured shoulder. Still it was a great personal affront and loss of personal esteem. The OT and the psychologist helped me establish the next stage of my life of developing my writing and becoming a volunteer and using my skills to help others in greater need.

In 2008 I again needed help from an OT and was directed to an Independent Living Centre to get advice on a scooter. What would I need to know about a scooter - after all, old people knew how to use them? OK, off I went and I am so glad I did. I am sure that I would have made the wrong decision left to my own devices.

I chose the cheapest model and was asked 'How comfortable are you and how long do you think you will be able to sit on it'. 'Not long' I grumbled.

I was directed to a three wheel model with more supportive seating and an area base for my braced leg. I found a second hand model and have used it extensively over the last 5 years. I have made many trips on the train, and it has enabled me to independently continue my enjoyable role as a volunteer in aged care and most importantly has given me freedom to get out and about and enjoy the sunshine.

My current need for an OT is a big one. I am struggling with my mobility again - leg braces are not as pain friendly, my old demon fatigue has returned and I struggle with my breathing. After six months or so of research I discovered a light weight fold up power chair that I would be able to manage in and out of my car. My independence would not be dependent upon a special vehicle or a wheelchair taxi.

Again I have been eased through the decision making and the power chair was modified to provide for my needs well into the future. In all the OT and physios have spent over 40 hours with me assessing my needs and again as a part of that process was a re-evaluation of my home environment.

It was also recognised that I needed to do something radical to improve my home access. We are now in the process of demolishing our home and building two town houses. Not surprisingly our plans and structural drawings have been developed with the assistance of a quiet and unassuming occupational therapist.