Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010: Why We Decided to Be OTs...

We saw my cousin Kikix (Key-kay) today. My friend Anita (or Ann) and I made the 3 hour journey from Antigua to Esquipulas, by way of Guatemala City and Chiquimula to visit him and see what we could do. Anita is also a student in my program and she had done some work with people who have spinal injuries-- I needed all the help I could get. Kikix broke his neck at the C5 level in January, and he’s been receiving therapy at home for the past 6 months. I’d had a few conversations with him on the phone and he said he really wanted to be able to use his computer again because he makes a living by buying and selling items on the internet. So I promised him we’d find a way to make it happen before we left.

When we arrived at his house, we checked out all of the therapeutic devices Kikix had there. He told us whenever he went to a clinic for therapy, his family would take pictures of all of the equipment he used, and then they’d fabricate their own version of it at home. He had that arc thing with the rings on it that works on upper extremity range of motion, sensory devices for sensing hot and cold and textures, pulley systems to help him work out his arms, hand cycles, a verticalizer table… he had more equipment in his home than some clinics have- and so much of it was made from pictures!

Anita and I examined his abilities, and looked for ways that we could assist him. His strongest muscles were his biceps which allowed him to bend his elbow and rotate his forearm, however he had little strength in his wrists (but there’s some coming back which is amazing!) and he could not move his fingers. So our plan was to make a splint that kept his wrist straight, with a device near his palm that could act as a finger for typing. I promised him he’d be able to use his computer before we left, so we couldn’t let him down!!! After several experiments, Anita and I were able to make such a device out of a thin slat of wood, duct tape, and some Velcro the family ran out and found. We taped a pencil with the eraser side down to tap the keyboard, and viola!- Kikix had a new assistive device!

So here’s the cool part- when we put the splint on Kikix, he checked his email for the first time in 6 months, he played us some tunes from his computer, and checked facebook all on his own! He surprised Anita and I when he asked for his cell phone that has a touch screen- after a few attempts, he was able to work it… again for the first time since his accident 6 months ago. It was an amazing moment! Anita and I almost cried and Kikix was excited. He understood the concept and kept thinking of ideas of what he could do with the splint. It opened a new world of possibilities for him, which was more than we expected to give him.

I’m still in shock by what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, with so little. As Occupational Therapists, we focus so much on activities of daily living, and these things are so common, that it’s easy to forget how important they are to people. To many, it may not seem like being able to use a computer keyboard could change a person’s life, but if you could see Kikix’s look on his face (which I have a video of) you’d realize just how important it was to him. It gave him a piece of his life back- the first of many pieces that he’s just beginning to rebuild. More than anything, it gave him hope and understanding that life can go on and still be just as fulfilling… with or without a disability.