Published on March 23, 2021

The View from my Seat

I’m now paying price for slacking off physical therapy after Covid struck

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I am back in physical rehabilitation.

I place part of the blame on Covid-19, but deep down,I know it’s my fault.

I write this column not to burden you with my problems, but because I worry about how many other persons with disabilities have had their rehabilitation derailed by the virus. Mostly, however, I offer it as a cautionary tale: Do not ignore what the physical therapists and physicians tell you.

Let me explain.

Nine years ago, despite being in what I thought was excellent health, I was stricken with an out-of-nowhere auto-immune disorder that damaged my spinal cord and put me in a wheelchair.

I spent a month at TIRR Memorial Hermann learning about wheelchair life. I then went to an outpatient clinic and continued my rehabilitation under the guidance of physical therapists.

As years went by, it became clear no amount of therapy would help me walk again.

I wasn’t making enough progress to satisfy Medicare so the government, quite rightfully, ended the therapy.

I was told by therapists that I still needed to do stretching and strengthening exercises on my own. And, they warned, my condition could deteriorate unless I used various types of equipment to stand up at least an hour each day.

I joined a program at the clinic that let me work out without the supervision of therapists.

I could stand up using clinic equipment.

I also enrolled at the Pearland Recreation Center and Natatorium. Pool therapy is wonderful because buoyancy makes it easier to move my legs. Also, I can stand up without fear of a hard landing if I fall.

I went to the clinic two or three times a week and the pool at least twice a week.

I was holding my own. But then the virus hit, and my routine was disrupted.

Although the clinic remained open, I decided it was too risky for this 73-year-old with an underlying condition to keep going.

Then, because of the pandemic, the natatorium limited attendance. Reservations were required, but they were almost impossible to get. I was lucky to land a spot once a week.

That meant the only way I had to stand was in a walker at home. At least that was the plan, but a mistake I had made over eight years caught up with me.

From the beginning, everyone who ends up in a wheelchair is told to take special care of the shoulders. I was given a list of twice-a-day shoulder exercises.

It makes sense. Shoulders carry a heavy burden for those of us in wheelchairs. They become your legs. They help power the chair and transfer off and on.

I estimate I transfer my 6’5” and 210-pound frame off and on the chair more than 20 times a day.

Much to my regret, for years I was preoccupied with my legs and neglected the shoulder exercises.

It all caught up with me when I had to resort to the walker to stand up. My legs alone are not strong enough to stand so I rely on my arms and shoulders to hold me up in the walker.

They weren’t up to the task.

Shoulder pain not only prevented me from using the walker but kept me awake at night.

So as the pandemic started, I was in violation of the warning from therapists. I wasn’t standing enough. No gym. No pool. No walker at home.

At the time I figured it was no big deal. How long can a pandemic last anyway?

As the pandemic dragged on, I noticed my legs wanted to scissor together and my feet wanted to roll outward. What the therapists warned me about was happening.

Because of the pandemic and my own negligence, I now have to wear leg braces during the day and a separate set of braces at night.

And I have two hours of shoulder therapy and two hours of leg therapy each week.

This time I will do everything the therapists recommend … pandemic or no pandemic.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)