A few years back, before the clinic doors opened, I was doing some freelancing mobile physiotherapy work.
My travels often took me to various clients’ homes, some of which included retirement and long-term care facilities.
It was in a retirement home where I worked with a lovely young women in her late 80s who was experiencing some memory loss and physical decline. It was with the gentle coaxing of her caring and attentive family that she decided to work on improving her strength, balance and endurance.
She could just as easily have decided that all she wanted to do was sit on her comfy recliner and read her incredible, diverse collection of books.
But in those moments of lucidity, she wanted to maintain her independence as much as possible and minimize her risk of a serious fall, so we would head to the home’s physiotherapy gym a couple times a week and work diligently on various exercises.
Each week, when I knocked on her door she would greet me with “Hello, fella!” as she couldn’t remember my name or what exactly I did. And every time, I would find a way to let her know that I was a physiotherapist and we would be working on getting her moving.
She would then follow up with a half-hearted diatribe against exercise, exclaiming that she was too old and exercise was for the young.
In the end, she would always agree to do a little bit today, but just a little bit.
We would make our way down to the exercise area, my automatic cues of “pick your feet up, don’t drag them”, “look up, don’t look down”,”bigger steps” and “take your time, there’s no rush” bouncing off the walls.
Her retorts of “my aren’t you bossy?!” bouncing right back at me.
When we first started, 5 minutes of total movement was an eternity for her. We would work in one minute bursts.
Even then, she would ask for multiple rest breaks, trying to drag them out as long as possible with shrewd negotiations and offers.
By the end, we were spending at least 20-30 minutes straight on various exercises specifically chosen to help her complete her most important daily physical tasks: getting out of a chair, getting on and off the toilet, transfers, and walking with her walker as safely as possible.
But at the end of every session, without fail, exhausted from all the work she had just put in, she would turn to me and say:
“I need to do some sit ups now to flatten my stomach.”
And so we would make our way to the large elevated therapy bed, and she would do a few sets of sit ups and crunches, before making the trek back to her room.