Going the extra mile to aid recovery

Recovery wheelchair

As an NHS physiotherapist Aiden Murphy finds his work challenging and at times fraught. Volunteering to help survivors of serious neurological illness has rekindled his faith in the profession 

14th December 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Everyone tries to catch Sam when he walks. He has this heart-in-mouth routine of putting one foot forward, his body leaning out as if he’s going to fall before he stabilises himself with his other leg. I walk just ahead in case he needs me to fall into which does occasionally happen.

I first met Sam in 2013 as a NHS physiotherapist for neurological patients. An accident at work left him partially immobile and he’d cry constantly frustrated he couldn’t walk. Knowing therapy on the NHS is stretched, I decided to give Sam some of my own time in a bid to get him walking again. At 62 and fit I knew the right kind of physio and the right motivation was all that was needed. Unfortunately since then he’s had three strokes and each has been a major setback.

But it’s testimony to Sam’s resilience that he just keeps picking himself up again, determined to walk however much it takes. 

Aiden Murphy

Aiden Murphy

My belief is that anything can be done if you apply the effort. It’s not easy: recovering from a neurological injury or illness can be laboriously slow and hugely frustrating. Each day is a victory and setbacks are all too common. I tell that to all my patients: take each day on its own and consider what you have achieved that day without reference to the future.

I use the Day Zero analogy: after a catastrophic event, you’ve been reset to day one like being born again. So each day you have to learn the very basics like walking, talking and moving. Don’t expect anything other than to achieve that day’s goals. It works because those who achieve more in a few weeks are often ecstatic at their progress instead of being disappointed. Recovery is all about what you achieve now not what you had then. 

It’s incredible seeing people recover. Unfortunately therapy on the NHS can be limited due to resources and therefore 90% of an individual’s progress is really down to themselves. This is against a backdrop where people are living longer and mobility-limiting illnesses such as diabetes and stroke are on the ascendency.

It’s something I love doing so I don’t see lending my free time as a bind, especially when the results are so positive. Along with Sam I have three others I support alongside two of my colleagues. Young people are hit especially hard mentally when they have traumatic brain injuries and supporting them has become our remit of late.

The younger you are the better you respond to therapy. Plus as physiotherapists we are learning and being challenged all the time and the voluntary work we do really increases our personal development as practitioners.

When you work in one of the caring professions you can all too easily lose touch with the fact you are often an individual’s first and last point of contact. Every day I remind myself of that. The impact we make on people’s lives as individuals should never be underestimated. It is especially rewarding when a former patient makes contact and you see how much progressive they have made since you last saw them. That’s what makes volunteering, about going that extra yard, all worthwhile.