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This Is What I Trained For

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  • Written By: Allied Services Integrated Health
This Is What I Trained For

This is what I trained for

For so many, the pandemic has meant a change to the way they work. As an Occupational Therapist, I’ve needed to adapt and embrace new ways of working to continue helping my patients. We’re utilizing technology to deliver therapy virtually, visiting patients in their homes to ensure they continue with their rehab, and finding new ways to connect with patients despite the barriers that personal protective equipment creates. Throughout, my work has been a reassuring constant. When I see patients debilitated by coronavirus starting their recovery, I know, this is what I trained for.

Occupational Therapy is a discipline dedicated to helping people regain their functional abilities after an injury or illness. Although rehabilitation has limited experience specific to coronavirus, the individual problems we are seeing in people recovering from the virus are all quite common and well studied. Rehabilitation specialists, such as speech, occupational and physical therapists, are experienced in working collaboratively to develop and deliver personalized therapy plans to help patients regain function and quality of life. Rehabilitation for post-COVID patients is no different.

People recovering from COVID-19 may face several challenges. First, the damage caused to the lungs, kidneys, heart, and brain by the virus and second, the negative impact of the treatments themselves on their physical, cognitive, and emotional state. You might hear healthcare professionals using the umbrella term post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) when speaking about the physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms that coronavirus patients experience as a result of lengthy hospital stays. People who have spent weeks immobilized or intubated can suffer severe muscle weakness and fatigue, joint stiffness, impaired balance, and reduced mobility, and trouble swallowing, speaking, and eating. PICS can also result in cognitive impairments that affect memory or concentration.

The combination of symptoms that people recovering from COVID-19 can experience must surely be overwhelming for the patient. It may make moving around your own home or a trip to the grocery store seem impossible. However, rest alone is not the solution. Rehabilitation for post-COVID patients will differ for each patient but will draw on established, evidence-based interventions that are used every day to help other patients recover and return to their normal lives.

  • Physical therapy may be necessary for those with decreased strength and mobility. Static and dynamic exercises target balance, strength, and aerobic capacity while reducing joint and muscle pain. Patients may need assistance relearning aspects of their mobility including walking and transitioning from sitting to standing.
  • Occupational therapy has an important role to play in improving the quality of life for debilitated patients. For example, occupational therapists will develop strategies for completing everyday tasks such as self-care and cooking with greater efficiency so as to reduce fatigue. Cognitive training may be incorporated into functional tasks to improve or compensate for memory impairments. Assistive devices or environmental modification may be necessary as well for safety.
  • Speech therapy may be required for patients who were on a ventilator and report difficulty swallowing or speaking as a result of bruising or inflammation of the vocal cords.

Whether patients are seen by therapists in an outpatient clinic setting, their home, or virtually through telehealth services, the overall goal is to maximize function and quality of life. This “new normal” as some have called it has forced us to be creative and adapt in this unprecedented time. We have accepted this challenge. We will continue to provide therapy services to our community in whatever way necessary. This is what I trained for.

Stephanie Maciolek, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with more than 33 years of experience. She treats patients at Allied Services Luger Scranton Rehab Center.

Learn more about more ways you can receive therapy safely.

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