Physiotherapy and open-heart surgery – an unlikely pairing?

If you were to think about Physiotherapy, cardiac intensive care probably isn’t the first place you’d think of. Neither was it mine while considering physiotherapy as a career choice.

Following open-heart surgery, providing all is well, many patients will be sat out of bed from day one. However, for others who may have on going issues, getting out of bed for the first time can be a challenging and lengthy process.

Give me an example I hear you ask!

One particular patient that I have come across whilst working in the Trust, had a number of complications that meant he was unable to mobilise, having only being hoisted out once. A brief spell on the ward was then followed by a return to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for on-going management. As you can imagine, this whole process can be disorientating and caused confusion, not to mention the added medical causes. Confusion, at times, can unfortunately lead to aggression and the sense of a difficult patient that is in continual decline.

But I remember spending time with the patient, encouraging him on a daily basis with a number of failed attempts at sitting on the edge of the bed but, as a physiotherapy team, we gradually built a rapport. And, after four weeks following his initial contact, he was ready to engage in physiotherapy.

As a team, we slowly but surely got the patient to end of the bed, and to our surprise the patient was able to sit independently and wanted to continue and try a stand. Amazingly the patient stood with our help and was able to transfer to the chair.

He had always enjoyed the outdoors, and with the views out of ITU we were able to turn his chair around and enable him to look outside of his current environment. It was good to see him now in a calmed and settled state, and he was able to sit out for a couple of hours before returning to bed.

Over the course of the next week the patient progressed well, and by the time he left Derriford to move to a rehab hospital, he was able to mobilise 10 meters with assistance. We were even able to take the patient outside in order to progress his rehab, there are many deals to be done with physiotherapists. Given a goal, such as walk to the wheelchair on the other side of the bay, it’s remarkable what some patients will do!

What it all means for me, for us, Physiotherapists

So, starting with a confused and aggressive patient, to ending up with a grateful, coherent patient made the hard work worth it. Sometimes patients need the extra chance to flourish and can really surprise you. The sense of achievement not only for the patient and family, but as a physiotherapy team enables us to keep motivated and push our patients to their full rehab limits, even if that does mean we get the nick name physio-terroists! We have the patients’ best interest at heart.

Rebecca Dyer

Band 5 Physiotherapist


Rebecca is writing as part of the #WeCare2 campaign that will be running across our Trust communications. Look out for more from Physiotherapy, and their AHP and HCS colleagues, on our social media pages, Trust screensavers, Daily Email, Vital Signs and much more.

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