In the kingdom of therapy

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

Two weeks in rehab at NHC Farragut for my fractured leg has taught me many, many things.


Therapy is a double-edged sword, and there is a reason why one of the coffee mugs belonging to a physical therapist reads, “Don’t mess with me. I get paid to inflict pain.” Work through it, however, and you get the grand prize. I honestly feel I may come out stronger than I was before the break.

The social aspects of a residential rehab center are fascinating, especially one where there is a lot of visiting and patient interaction.

We humans, it seems, form communities wherever we may land. There’s a community here, and we all have our roles to play.

The kings and queens who rule the land are the Physical Therapists, followed closely by the dukes and duchesses, the Occupational Therapists. The nurses and nursing assistants (CNAs) are vital, perhaps ranking in at the marquess/marchioness and earl/countess levels. The doctors and/or physician assistants hold the keys at discharge time, so they rank up on that day.

The whole kingdom, however, is actually ruled by the chef because all schedules revolve around the times when the dining room is open. The hallways are filled with wheelchair and walker brigades as we patients are pushed or “walked with assistance” from the safety of our rooms to the torture chamber (therapy gym) and the dining hall. Don’t challenge a rehab CNA to an endurance walk. One of the ladies pushing me down the long hall for the third time one morning told me her FitBit blew up at 40,000 steps one busy Monday.

Some of us are more mobile than others. John, who might be the NHC Mayor, walks his wheelchair all around, building strength in his legs while most of us are working our CNA’s muscles as hard as we are our own. John knows everyone and has a “howdy” for each person at the rehab gym or in the dining room.

Because I started out in a double room then moved to a single, I have been on two different “wings” at the center. One wasn’t better than the other, but each had its own personality. One consistency, however, is that if you want to stay in your room, you can just keep on wanting. You might get an afternoon nap if both your PT and your OT happened to land in the morning, but it’s rare. Rest at night. The work of the kingdom – getting stronger – is the prime directive during the day.

Julie, my PT, and Mary, OT, are both weaving through the wheelchair maze outside the dining room, where I have been hiding out with a cup of hot tea. One or possibly both are undoubtedly looking for me, and I have nowhere to hide, so I’d better put the pad down and start flexing my muscles.

Julie wins, and I am off to the torture chamber where scary things like steps and bolster pillows and bikes await. She is gentle in her instruction and has me cinched up where I am safe from falling no matter what mountain we climb.

“Just five more,” she says, for the third time.

Yes, definitely getting stronger as I try to convince her that five follows three in new math.

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