spinal-cord injury

Another Day in Paradise: physio and occupational therapy

Outside of medical treatment, the main purpose of my stay in hospital is rehabilitation and for that I work with physiotherapists and occupational therapists. It is simply not possible for me to express the gratitude I have for the staff in these units.

My physiotherapist, Keira Ralston, has worked with me from the first day of my entry into the spinal unit.  she has helped me progress from the time when I had no movement in my body, bar my neck and shoulders, to my current position. I now have relatively strong biceps and good (if not sometimes weakened shaky) movement in my right arm down through my hand – little  strength in my left arm and no movement in my left hand. Of course some of this gain is the simple product of neurological  recovery but my capacity to develop and work with this recovery is almost completely due to Keira’s attention – her daily work with me in the gym, her knowledge of the human body and spinal-cord injury, and her awareness of when to push me and when to take things a little easy. Physiotherapy is an intimate profession and Keira handles my body with both gentleness and strength. She is simply a beautiful person and friend, a true embodiment of grace. I’m enriched by knowing her.

Occupational therapists are concerned with with maximising my function; with teaching me to use what movement I have to perform the tasks of everyday life. I have had two occupational therapists, Peta Leach and Ally Scholtes. again, I owe so much to these two people. Both have devoted their attention to the small details of making my silly body work. They have an extraordinary patience. It must be a frustrating profession, watching people struggle hour after hour to do simple tasks like eating, like moving blocks across a table, like brushing teeth and combing hair – always badly. I guess there is some comedy in the job. I vividly recall a morning spent watching my friend Sid trying to get a spoonful of food in his mouth, only to drop it as it got to his lips. The table was soon roaring with laughter. This might be difficult for outsiders to understand,  but the stupidity of our bodies is sometimes hilarious.

Again,  these are beautiful people and their care for me is exemplary. Ally has become someone  to share a coffee with, to make me laugh and, when necessary, to allow me to  bitch and complain when I’m feeling down. where would I be without her generosity of spirit?

This morning I had the joy of both Keira and Ally  taking me for my first car transfer. Ordinarily I am hoisted from my bed to my chair but one of my goals is to effect a transfer on a slide board. I have been trying for some time and, to be honest, I’m a long way from succeeding. It requires arm strength and balance that I simply do not have at this point (and may never have). It is possible, however, for me to transfer with the support of two people. In essence, they balance my trunk and push and pull me along the slide board. Today Keira and Ally managed to get me into a car seat – my first time sitting in anything other than a wheelchair for more than six months. It was no easy task for them. I provide little help, and they have two manoeuvre themselves around the car and the chair in an effort to slide me along. But we made it eventually, with plenty of laughter in the process. I eventually had the joy of sitting in the front seat of a car feeling almost like a normal human being, enjoying the sun on my face through the windscreen. In the long run, unless I really gain more function, this is probably not a practical form of transfer. It is simply too difficult. More likely I will require a modified van that enables me to drive straight on with my chair. these are exorbitant and beyond our means at present, so it’s public transport for now. Of course I have not yet given up on the goal of achieving a transfer. We shall see.

Thank you Keira, Ally and Peta. I hope you do knowthe difference you make to our lives.


Keira with me in the gym

Keira with me in the gym

Peta looking after me in the early days

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • jenniferharding
    April 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for sharing your daily journey with us Shane.

  • Jillian Cheek
    April 16, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Nice to know something about the people who are helping you, Shane, so we can pray a bit more specifically than for ‘the medical staff and carers’. Thanks.

  • Lauren
    April 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    It occurs to me that it has been women who have nurtured and sustained you, surrounding your fragile body with a fierce intimacy. “Who is She, mothering her people, teaching them to walk, lifting weary toddlers, bending down to feed them? She is Love.”

  • Elly Clifton
    April 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

    They are amazing women and we are eternally grateful to them for their help and also their grace in doing so.


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