At age 67, retired mechanic Julio Gonzalez Molina expects to be able to go shopping, run errands and even flash a few dance moves. But after he recently underwent surgery for colon cancer at City of Hope, he only wanted to stay in bed.
|Julio Gonzalez Molina (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)|
Imagine how he felt, then, when occupational therapist Karina Ng, M.O.T., O.T.R./L., urged him to move.
“She made me walk,” said Gonzalez, of El Monte, Calif. “I told her I didn’t want to, but she made me walk.” Now, many months later, Gonzalez credits Ng’s persistence in part for his recovery.
Ng is one of seven occupational therapy team members at City of Hope. Often practicing their profession out of the limelight, occupational therapists play a big role in helping patients return to their normal routine after treatment.
“A lot of people think our discipline is related to work, but we actually help people gain the ability to perform activities of daily living, like bathing, getting dressed and eating,” said Jennifer Hayter, M.A., O.T.R./L., director of the Rehabilitation Services Department.
Occupational therapists must study human growth and development, with emphasis on the social, emotional and physical effects of illness and injury. They frame therapy around three factors: patients’ abilities, the daily tasks patients want to achieve and patients’ living environments.
For example, occupational therapist Francis Waithaka, M.S., O.T.R./L, recently worked with patient Phil Estermann. Their aim was to maintain Estermann’s muscle tone and reflexes while he underwent hematopoietic cell transplantation
Estermann lives in Honolulu and is a regular swimmer, so Waithaka customized his therapy to focus on upper-body exercises. The therapy would give Estermann the endurance to use his hands and arms without tiring, Waithaka explained.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, was most concerned with being able to care for himself independently. But an infection in his lungs following surgery slowed his recovery, keeping him in the hospital for several months and confined to bed. So Ng adjusted Gonzalez’ therapy plan, asking him to move his feet to maintain his muscle tone. He performed exercises with elastic bands and progressed to walking.
“She would scold me when I didn’t want to get up,” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “I know she had my well-being in mind.”
Ng thinks back fondly to her time with Gonzalez. “I saw him every day, twice a day, and encouraged him,” she said. “We’d tell him, ‘If you want to go home, you have to do this.’”
By the time he was discharged, Gonzalez was able to dance with Ng in the hospital hallway. He now manages well on his own.
“I was well cared for at City of Hope. A patient going through this experience really needs to try hard and put forth his own effort to get well,” he said.
“I’m really grateful to Karina,” he added. “She had a lot of patience with me.”
Occupational therapists and fall prevention
Cancer can take a powerful toll on patients, sometimes affecting their ability to walk, stand and balance during treatment and recovery. This can leave patients at serious risk of injury due to falling. Occupational therapists can teach patients techniques for avoiding falls, and the American Occupational Therapy Association offers a number of tips:
- Do not walk and talk at the same time.
- Wear appropriate footwear that fits well and is comfortable.
- Arrange furniture so that it creates plenty of room to walk freely.
- Install railings in hallways and grab bars in the bathroom and shower.
- Be sure you have adequate lighting.
- Stay active to maintain overall strength and endurance.
- Know your limitations. If there is a task you cannot complete with ease, do not risk a fall by trying to complete it.
For more information, see the association’s Fall Prevention tip sheet. Other helpful tips are available, also.