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Dom’s Story

When did you first come in touch with Occupational Therapy services?

My first experience with Occupation Therapy was in hospital after suffering my spinal injury and at first I thought that an OT was some sort of WHS representative from the hospital.

Can you describe the type of Occupational Therapy services you have received?

When I started seeing an OT I was unable to lift my arm up to my face to scratch it. I had no idea what movement I would get back as my spinal swelling went down, but thanks to my OT, every week I found myself doing new things. It was an OT who first put me in a power wheelchair and took me outside the hospital to try and improve my driving skills. Once I had enough strength in my arms to drive my wheelchair I started to go out with family and friends for lunch. At this stage I was still unable to feed myself, as I didn’t have enough strength in my arms. This meant that I was completely reliant on family and friends to feed me. As the weeks went by the OT helped me work on feeding myself and introduced me to the tenodesis grip, something that would greatly improve the quality of my life. After a month or more of daily therapy I had gained enough movement and strength to once again feed myself, these simple tasks gave me back a small piece of my independence and dignity. It’s true that you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone and most people will never know how fortunate they are to be able to eat unassisted. From there the OT helped me refine my tenodesis grip; she did this by making me pick up marbles from a bowl of rice.

After moving to rehab I started seeing another OT. This OT pushed me to achieve my goals and helped me accomplish so many things, like; transfer on to my bed, transfer back into my wheelchair, start pushing my manual chair around, empty my leg bag independently, shower semi independently, transfer into a car, play board games, play pool, use a computer with the aid of splints, cook food for myself, put clothes on independently and start to write again. I’ve probably left off a whole bunch of stuff but you can see how important the role of an OT is in an acute setting.

Once I moved home I started seeing an OT who helped me access the community. She encouraged me to start TAFE, helped me settle in to my new apartment and also looked for suitable accommodation with the Department of Housing.

I was very fortunate to receive compensation a year after returning to Newcastle; this allowed me to buy a home of my own. This process sounds easy enough but it was far from it. I first needed to find a home I liked, and then I needed my OT to look at it to see if it could be made accessible. From there she would contact a builder to come and see the property and get his opinion on whether the home could be made wheelchair accessible, this process could take a few weeks sometimes and often the home would be sold before we even got a chance to make an offer.

Eventually I was able to find a house that was suitable, but it was far from livable for someone in a wheelchair. It was my OT who designed: my kitchen, front and back entrance, bathroom and worked closely with the builder to ensure that the house was accessible.

After I had moved into my house I started seeing a community Occupational Therapist. This is when I went to that next level of independence; I can’t thank each and every OT that I’ve seen. This is when I got back driving, something I had thought completely impossible. This is such a massive turning point in my life, being able to go where I wanted when I wanted. Before this I was suffering from depression and spent my days sitting around my house watching daytime TV. The OT showed me that I could still live a happy and productive life. An OT Assistant was organised to accompany me on outings. Getting me out of the house and accessing the community once again was another massive step. I now speak at schools to children about life and spinal cord injury and I was asked one day, ‘what’s the hardest thing you have to do each day?’ I responded ‘be the guy in the wheelchair. It’s easy to sit in you air conditioned home watching your big TV, but it’s much harder to go out to the shops and be the guy in a wheelchair, go to a party and be the guy in a wheelchair, go to Uni and be the guy in a wheelchair, it’s hard to be that guy every day’.

Community OT still plays a massive role in me accessing the community today. My current OT, has an enthusiasm that’s contagious and is always pushing me to do things they know I can do but are still blind to me. With their help I have completed Open Foundation, found a passion for creating things, started fulltime uni, had my art shown in 2 local galleries and helped me find aids that have greatly increase my independence. They have also helped heal pressure areas by prescribing appropriate aids.

Every OT I have seen has brought new ideas, some other things they have allowed me to do; weld, garden in a raised garden bed, identified fire hazards and problem solved potential solutions, help implement environment controls in my home, access the community, helped me with mindfulness exercises, traveled great distances with me to see how others live with my condition, helped identify leisure activities (something which has been extremely challenging) and helped me to identify and reach my goals.

How has Occupational Therapy helped you?

Occupational Therapy has done so much for me and it’s hard to put into words. Occupational Therapy is more than just equipment and aids; it’s given me back my life. OT’s have helped me through the toughest periods of my life and allowed me to identify goals and helped me achieve them. Occupational Therapy has rebuilt my life piece by piece and allowed me to once again function as a normal member of society and dare to dream of a bright future.

Now that you have first-hand experience as a client of Occupational Therapy services, how would you best describe Occupational Therapy?

I no longer see OT’s as WHS representatives. I often hear OT’s talk about Occupational Therapy being about promoting health and wellbeing through Occupation and I think this is pretty close but a little impersonal. I now see Occupational Therapy as a service that can help you set and achieve goals. Whether that goal is to feed yourself independently or drive again, Occupation Therapy can help. Occupational Therapy can help you pick up the pieces of your life and rebuild, what you rebuild is up to you but OT’s will help you every step.

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