The Perfect Storm
September 2, 2016 | By Sue Colbourne
A Rehab-er becomes a Rehab-ee
An OT’s personal story of recovery through the use of Urban Poles.
As an occupational therapist, I have been successfully using Urban poles with clients since 2012. I was so impressed with the poles that I went on to become a Master Trainer so that I could teach other rehab colleagues about Urban poling. In addition to using them with clients, poling has become my exercise of choice for several years now.
This past spring, I gained a new perspective on poling when my husband Guy and I used the poles for our own rehabilitation. In mid April, I contracted pertussis (whooping cough), which damages the respiratory system. The cough persists for at least 100 days, with the worst coughing occurring in the first month. This led to a lack of sleep and significant weight loss, culminating in extreme fatigue.
Guy has done years of hard work and has had several injuries leading to pressure on his spinal cord which required urgent surgery to remove the C6 vertebra and the adjacent discs to prevent permanent paralysis. The same day as Guy was undergoing this surgery, I was at the Emergency Department of the same hospital as I truly thought I was going to die because I was so weak. Walking to the bathroom was all I could manage at this point. We called it “The Perfect Storm.”
The surgery was successful and Guy was able to walk without a limp the next day but clearly needed to work on strengthening. He also needed to increase his weight bearing in order to promote the formation of new bone in his neck to fuse his C5 and C7 vertebra to the titanium cage that replaced C6. Guy also wanted to lose the weight he had accumulated in his less active months. While awaiting surgery, Guy had used the poles as this allowed him to clear his right foot and double his walking speed. Post surgery, he initially walked without the poles but developed referred pain in his right shoulder and when I noticed he was starting to immobilise his right arm by resting his hand in the front of his shirt, I encouraged him to use a pole to support it instead. This helped him to keep his shoulder moving while not exacerbating the pain.
In the early stages of our rehabilitation, Guy was able to walk much further than I was as fatigue was not as big a factor for him. When I was able to resume poling, all I could tolerate was a 5 minute round-trip to my mailbox. Although I have worked with clients for whom fatigue has been a significant issue, I had never personally experienced how debilitating it truly is until this illness. In early May, even taking a shower meant needing several hours to recover. I remember thinking how unrealistic some of my expectations had been for my clients.
During the early stage of my illness, I did not drive, as the coughing spells were so violent and unexpected. I kept up this voluntary driving ban following that period, as my cognitive abilities and reaction time was slowed due to my lack of energy. This made the ability to grab my poles and start walking rather than driving to a gym or fitness class invaluable. After I returned to driving, I still had to manage my energy levels as interacting with people out in the community was very tiring. This made me appreciate being able to the exercise in the quiet of the outdoors. We have lovely trails near our house and we went out daily as soon as it was light, before other tasks claimed our attention and energy. My theory being that prioritizing poling over house and yard work would allow me to regain the energy needed to take on those tasks as well. That is exactly what happened.
In time, we were able to walk for 2 hours on flat terrain. We then progressed to more challenging hikes and the poles were essential on steeper ground. As I write, my rehabilitation is complete in terms of my renewed strength, energy and independence. Guy has lost 26 pounds and is starting to woodwork again. We continue to use our poles to make further gains in our fitness.
Walking with poles can help reduce fatigue during and after cancer treatment and has proven beneficial to those in breast cancer rehab. To read more about the research that supports the benefits of Nordic walking for cancer patients, visit the Your Health section of our website.