Monday, July 14, 2008

Let us now praise Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapists

Last October, I broke my arm - fractured in three places, just below my shoulder.

They don't do much for this type of break: they tell you to wear a sling for a week, then they tell you to start PT.

The "they" who were telling me what to do were at a World Famous Medical Institution within walking distance of my home. Since I have, in the past, received (mostly) world class health care at said World Famous Medical Institution, I did what they told me.

And although they didn't really direct me one way or the other, I started physical therapy at the World Famous Medical Institution.

At first, I thought I was making good progress.

I was after all, doing everything my therapist told me to do - and she was assuring me that I was doing well. When I saw the orthopedist, he, too, told me that I was ahead of the game. Many folks, he told me, just aren't willing to do much of anything because it hurts.

But after a couple of weeks, I started to wonder whether there was something more I could be doing. I was, as I kept telling my therapist, willing to work aggressively; willing to tolerate some pain; eager to get back as near as possible to my full range of motion.

Sure, I had a few curl-up-and-self-pity moments, but mostly I refused to baby myself. Gimp arm and all, I shoveled snow, lugged groceries, put up my Christmas tree, took down my Christmas tree, drove 335 miles to Syracuse, drove 335 miles back from Syracuse...

But my frustration was growing, and I seemed to be stalled - the best I could muster in terms of raising my arm was a limited, modified Fascist salute, which I could only manage with some effort.

Something wasn't working quite right - and it wasn't just my arm.

My sister Kathleen told me I should look into a sports therapist. This seemed to make a lot of sense. God knows, I'm no athlete (spectator sports, only), but if there's anybody who wants to get back 100% of their arm-shoulder-leg-knee-whatever, it's someone who plays sports, rather than just watching them.

Kath had gone briefly to Kennedy Brothers with a problem hip a while back, and suggested I check them out. "They're a bit wacky," Kath said. "I think you'll like it."

On the day of my final PT appointment at the World Famous Medical Institution, I was goofily worried about how to let my therapist know that I would be going elsewhere, that I needed to try something else. I didn't, after all, want to hurt her feelings.

She had already figured out that I hadn't signed up for any more appointments beyond the initial referral. Showing up 20 minutes late to our 30 minute appointment, she announced that there was little more that PT could do for me, and that I would more than likely need surgery.

A day or so later, I walked into Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapists on Franklin Street in downtown Boston. (They have a couple of other sites as well.)

There I saw the head guy, Jake Kennedy, who asked me to show him what I could do with my arm, which wasn't all that much (beyond that limited, modified Fascist salute).

He told me that, due to lack of use over the past three months, my shoulder capsule muscles were fibrotic, but that he felt we would be able to restore enough range of motion to avoid surgery.

"Did I just waste three months at the World Famous Medical Institution?" I asked.

"You did, indeed," Jake told me.

Jake got me going right then and there on stretching and strengthening exercises.

At first I couldn't row very fast, or push very hard, or pull very much.

But I started coming twice a week,and doing the home exercises as religiously as I'd done the ones given to me by the World Famous Medical Institution. Only these exercises actually seemed to be doing something for me, and pretty soon I was making good progress. Even after just one visit (and my homework) I was able to put my hands behind my back and have my fingers meet. It hurt like hell, but I could do it.

Every week, Jake, assisted by his able cadre of Northeastern University (mostly) co-op students getting advanced degrees in PT, got me to do a little more. Some of the things were fun. Some were pure torture. The worst torture was the stretching session, where Jake manipulated by arm. At some point in each of those sessions, I felt like the top of my head was going to fly off, the pain was so intense. A few times, I had to sit there for a couple of minutes after we were finished because I thought I'd faint if I got up off the table.

But bit by bit: I could put those plates back in the cupboard without hurt or hesitation. I could sleep once again on my side. I could take my parka off without looking like I had St. Vitus Dance.

I started talking to the other folks who were at Kennedy Brothers - some for physical therapy, some for fitness, all it seemed because Jake is the real deal: somebody who really and truly knows what he's doing and is damned good at it.

Several of the people I met had stories similar to mine: they'd been told that they'd need surgery; they'd been told they'd never do X or Y again.

"Jake is a healer," Seamus my comrade in arms (or, rather, comrade in bad shoulders) told me.

Indeed he is.

He's also really smart, really funny, really generous, and really good. (There always seems to be some 'run for something-or-other' going on - and, in particular, they support fund raisers for ALS.) Inner city kids from the Boston public high schools get to come in and use the fitness equipment for free. And Jake and his wife sponsor an annual event, Christmas in the City, that provides for the needs of homeless families - not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. (The back reaches of the Kennedy Brothers' space is full of things that people have donated, and many times I've been there, there've been women with small kids in tow coming in to see Jake about help. Or so I surmise: no on makes a show, least of all Jake, about what these folks are coming in for. They're just part of the parade of people of all shapes and sizes, ages and races, that flow in and out of Kennedy Brothers in the course of a day.)

Kennedy Brothers is not for everybody.

The place - at least the one on Franklin Street - can be chaotic. There's a TV in the front of the place that's always got news or sports on, while out back the world's goofiest radio station, WJIB, is blaring Kate Smith, Perry Como, the Carpenters, Bobby Vinton, Carole King, and the Murmaids. The first five I recognized. When the song "Popsicles, Icicles" was played, Jake asked me if I knew who sang it. I hadn't a clue. Even though WJIB never announces the songs they're playing, Jake knew it was the Murmaids. (But he didn't know that this was the peculiar spelling of this one-hit-wonder group until I told him. Let's hear it for Google.)

On St. Patrick's Day, all the chaos was augmented by the strangest, most eclectic set of Irish music I've ever heard. (The year before, I'd been walking by on March 17th when I heard Mother Machree - the John McCormack version, I believe - or was it Dennis Day? - wafting down. There's some sort of Catholic center next door, so I assumed it was coming from there. This year I was at The Source: Kennedy Brothers.)

The place is decidedly not swanky. The carpet is worn. The rowing machine - my favorite piece of equipment - is quasi-broken. And half the pins in the weight machines are missing, so you have to wait for someone to finish with a machine and go grab the pin they were using. Sometimes they run out of ice, or ice bags.

You don't get one on one attention and hand holding during any sort of official appointment. You just come in, fend for yourself - and find people to help fend for and with you when you need them.

The Northeastern co-op students will help you figure out the equipment, and will set you up with the muscle stims, etc., but especially when it's busy, you have to be assertive if you want something.

While PT patients get time with Jake every session, nothing is formally scheduled. You have to get in his queue by being a little pushy.

As often as not you'll be told that he'll be with you in a minute.

Well, dog years ain't got nothing on Jake Kennedy minutes, I can tell you that.

My sessions there have lasted between one-and-a-half and three hours - but they will generally ask how much time you have, and juggle things around so that they can get to everyone for everything, sooner or later. So for someone on a really tight schedule, Kennedy Brothers might not work.

But if you're not high maintenance, have a sense of humor, like trivia (there's generally some contest or another going on the whiteboard, often hilariously funny), and - most important - want to get better: this is a great place.

Last week I had my last PT session.

I am still not 100% - I still can't hook my bra from the back - but Jake has assured me that if I keep working the arm, I'll make further progress. He also told me that I've exceeded expectations - maybe he tells that to all the broken humeri, but I get the sense that I was in pretty rough shape when I showed up there, and that I'm lucky to have gotten to the point where I'm at.

Okay, I'll take some credit for this: I worked pretty darned hard. (Once an A student...)

By I couldn't have done it without Jake - and his able assistants, in particular Chris, a.k.a., Mr. October, and Chris, a.k.a., Maury. (All the kids who work there get nicknames. So do some of the patients. I'm sometimes called Mo-Torious or MoTo.)

Anyone in Boston who needs to see a physical therapist for the type of injury I had - they specialize  "in treatment for all orthopedic injuries to the spine and extremities" -  should consider Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy.

I can't help but believe that they're head and shoulder (at least this shoulder) above the rest.

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