West Nile Neurological Disease – Therapy Remains Essential

A month after the body pirates, as I call the mosquito-borne West Nile neurological disease, ravaged my 54 year-old husband, paralyzing him in three limbs, an ambulance transported him from hospital to a rehab centre. He stayed there for five months, relearning the skills of basic mobility through intensive therapy.

At night I slept at the other end of the centre, in a roughly 10 by 12 foot cement hostel room. During the day I helped where I could, encouraging and assisting as God, the doctor, and the therapists put my husband back together again.

I’ll never forget Rick’s first meeting with his physiotherapist, Errin. Immobilized by poliomyelitis, struggling with encephalitis, and beleaguered by constant nausea–all consequences of the virus–he lay on his back on the therapy couch, kidney basin firmly in place, eyes clenched shut, brow furrowed in pain.

Errin said, “Well, Rick, what are your goals for your time with us?”

He thought for a moment. “Well,” he said finally, slowly…”my left arm is weak.”

Errin waited a while. When it seemed clear he wasn’t about to continue, she gave an encouraging “Mmm hmm?”

“I need it…” he said, “I need it to drive my scooter.”

He’d only gotten that scooter the previous summer. He’d wanted one most of his life. It was his escape hatch, the thing that helped him flee the pressures of his busy professional life as a spiritual caregiver.

Errin, a true professional, didn’t laugh, and she didn’t point out his almost total-body paralysis. She just said, “Well, I can tell your scooter is pretty important to you. How about we work first on getting you to be able to sit up?”

He’d already been getting some therapy at the local hospital–minor, compared to the paces they put him through at the rehab centre. For the next five months I watched as he and both his therapists–physio and occupational–and their assistants worked together, through terrible pain at first, then as it lessened, more eagerly.

I watched him, with their encouragement and patient, cheerful help, learn to roll over, to sit up, feed himself, dress himself, propel his wheelchair with his own feet, stand up, take tiny steps, then larger ones, then to walk with a walker, until finally those therapists felt it safe to let him leave the security of the rehab centre.

After his release, Rick continued with local therapy, both with professional therapists, and on his own. Almost three years later, he continues therapy on his own–regular exercise–walking, primarily. Though his body will not likely progress past the point it reached after two years post-infection, exercise is necessary to keep his muscles from atrophying.

Rarely (if ever) has Rick ever said, after therapy, “That felt so great! I’d love to do that again.” The therapy, several hours a day, pains him greatly. Nevertheless, he has learned to value it. Why? Simply because of the benefits it brings to both body and mind.

Pain is an inevitible side-affect of any type of therapy. But achieving maximum possible recovery is another. In Rick’s case “maximum” is still far less than what constituted his normal for the first fifty-three plus years of his life. We have learned to accept that, and be grateful for it. Yet he continues to work to maintain his recovery.

Along our West Nile journey, we’ve met numerous people who should be employing therapy to assist them in their battles with the circumstances that have flipped their lives over. Yet they refuse it. Whether they need physical, occupational, cognitive, emotional, or spiritual therapy, their excuse is that it’s too slow, too painful, too inconvenient.

Too bad. Along with faith and hope, therapy, from trained, reliable practitioners, helps get your boat upright when you’ve been capsized by life’s pirates.

We’ve found another blessing through the many hours Rick has spent in therapy. We’ve gained friends, both the therapists, and people we’ve met in the therapy rooms. We are richer for their healing presence in our lives.

Therapy…seek it. Accept it, no matter the name of your pirates.

You’ve just read article five in the E-Zine series: West Nile Neurological Disease–Fighting Life’s Pirates.

Read the complete story of our West Nile journey in West Nile Diary, One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease available on Amazon.

P.S. Wear repellent.


copyright 2010, by Kathleen Gibson. If you copy, copy right, and for non-profit use only. Please include author credit, and a link to my website, below.

Kathleen Gibson is a Canadian author and newspaper columnist whose work has been published in global print and online media. Through articles, interviews and her book, West Nile Diary–One Couple’s Triumph Over a Deadly Disease, she and her husband, Rick, have raised the level of West Nile Disease awareness across North America. Together, they point others to the beautiful strength that comes from cultivating a solid faith in God. Kathleen’s latest book is Practice by Practice, The Art of Everyday Faith. More info at http://www.kathleengibson.ca

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