I write this post with the utmost respect and high regard for my Patient Zero. He has helped sculpt me as a therapist (and individual) in ways I cannot express. I believe he has helped me more than I ever imagined I could help him. His new adventures in life give me cause for great joy and I could not be more proud of his accomplishments. Patient Zero became the poster child for my first trip to CMC. My experiences in rehab with him only added fuel to the fire of desire to return to CMC. You might say he is a large part of the reason I returned.
I knew he wouldn't be there this time. I knew he was a one-of-a-kind and there wasn't likely to be anyone like him in rehab when I returned. I was right—rehab was lacking a certain “Patient Zero” atmosphere. And then I met my Patient Hero.
He doesn't know I call him Patient Hero; mainly because we don’t speak the same language. Our verbal communications are severely limited by our linguistic heritages. He speaks only Hindi. I clearly don’t. I was introduced to him when I initially expressed interest in working with patients in rehab with tetraplegia (formally known as quadriplegia). He was the young, thin kid (21 years of age) sitting on the mat table with his faithful father squatting behind him with protective hands ready to catch him if he lost his balance. One look at his hands told me he had a C6-7 injury. One look at his face told me he had heart and a nearly supernatural determination. He also had my full attention.
Throughout my duty in rehab he proved to me time and time again that that initial spark of determination was not simply a rare moment, but his modus operandi. He had been working on hand function and tall-sitting balance in occupational therapy before I took over. As a therapist groomed towards increasing functional independence, I needed to see him engage in functional activities. In a series of comical charades and hilarious attempts to speak Tamil, or Spanish, or anything-but-English, I managed to ask his father to go get an extra shirt. With tremendous instability, a few cues from me, and a number of minutes later, Patient Hero managed to don his own shirt. By himself. For the first time in months. I won’t readily forget the look in his face as his shy, driven demeanor briefly gave way to pride and sheer joy. (Golly, I love my job!)
From that moment on, Patient Hero rose to every challenge I gave him. Every day his determination to do each task independently gained new heights. Patient Hero’s tenacity challenged even my patience. Occasionally I would give him a task that went beyond his abilities just so I could see what he would and could do. And occasionally I would miss the “just right challenge” mark and he would struggle unmercifully; however, he refused to let me adjust the task or move on to something else. With a shy smile and shake of the head he would motion me to return to the task I had initially given him and he would carry on. His frustration never seemed to give way to surrender.
His background is different from Patient Zero. Due to socioeconomic status he will not receive his wheelchair for another week or so, but that does not prevent him from showing up and pressing on. Unlike Patient Zero, he spent nearly six months at home prior to coming to CMC, and he arrived with condition called heterotrophic ossification which severely limits his hip range of motion. This limitation created a challenge for me as I began to problem-solve ways for him to progress towards independence with lower body dressing. Despite the difficulty, he stepped up to the plate and gave it his all.
He challenged me in ways I didn't expect. He taught me lessons I didn't see coming. He showed me that strong rapport can be built across the chasm of limited verbal communication. His story broke my heart while his small successes rising from his tremendous willpower provided an unexpected balm to heal the broken pieces. This time it was Patient Hero who made it hard for me to leave, and it is Patient Hero who inspires me to return again. I know he likely won’t be at rehab when I return, but his impact on my life has left a mark I cannot ignore. He was my hero. He is my hero.