Occupational therapists – bringing it all together

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Group of occupational therapists at Cairns Hospital

Group of occupational therapists at Cairns Hospital

Occupational Therapy Week, (25-31 October), is an opportunity to celebrate occupational therapy (OT) and promote the many ways occupational therapists help people to reach their potential.

We sat down for a chat with occupational therapist Holly Webster, hand therapist Darren Anderson and teenage patient Naomi Kuhle.

Read on to see the remarkable difference they make in a patient’s life.

Naomi: I was a patient in Cairns Hospital in June for around 12 days following a car accident and attended the Occupational therapy clinic as an out-patient for another 10 weeks.

What do occupational therapists do?

Naomi: My understanding is that they do everything. These guys were changing bandages, drawing diagrams, testing my flexibility and strength and helping me with exercises. They were treating the wound and getting my arm back to normal standard.

Holly: I see patients from infants all the way up to 16/17 years of age, patients in hospital and after they leave. It’s about rehabilitating them to get back to their normal occupation and things that are meaningful for them. For Naomi that was getting her motivated to go back to school, starting up her arts and crafts again, going back to camp and doing all the things that were really important to her. She re-engaged with her friends and now two of them want to be OTs.

Naomi: Me too, occupational therapy is maybe a career option for me, but I feel like I’m biased because I like these guys so much.  I do like other people so being an OT could be cool.

Darren: I work in hand therapy and specifically treat upper limb injuries in anyone from young people right through to older people. It ranges from anything from simple chronic conditions to complex multi-trauma cases. I deal mainly with patients while they are in hospital.

Our ultimate goal is getting people back to full function and engagement in whatever is meaningful to them. That looks different depending on where you work in the hospital. In my case it’s managing acute injuries with exercises and splints like I did with Naomi, with the over-arching goal of getting her back to do everything she once did with that arm.

Naomi: You don’t realise until you don’t have use of your arm just how much we need them.  I think the most annoying thing was not being able to tie up my hair. It was so close towards the end, I was like…I could almost reach but I couldn’t, dang!

Darren: It was a great goal and you got it in the end.

Naomi: I’m glad it wasn’t my right hand; I couldn’t type or carry stuff. Even just sleeping, it’s hard to sleep when your arm is propped up on a pillow.

Darren: When you first came off the splint you couldn’t bend the arm much as it was stiff, and you had lost muscle - so you were weak.

Naomi: Oh that’s so hurtful ouch (laughs)

Why did you become an occupational therapist?

Darren: I always wanted to do something that involved interacting with people and that involved helping people. I narrowed that down to a few areas such as allied health, teaching, medicine. Everything lined up for me to go into OT and when I went on my first placement I fell in love with the job.

Holly: I also knew I wanted to be in a helping profession; I received some feedback from a family once which really resonated with me. They said:

“We know that each of the professions has a role to play but what Holly does as an OT brings it all together so it makes sense.”

I thought that was a nice way of describing it. As an OT we think as a whole and look at not just the injury but at the whole person.

Naomi: These guys are awesome, they are in my top three favourite people in the hospital, along with Gail who is a nurse in the ortho ward. I spent a week there before being moved to the paediatric ward.

Darren: Oh, who is Gail? She must be pretty special to be up there with us! (laughs).