National Caregiver Month

Honoring Caregivers At Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Williamsburg Clinic

Kristina Carter, PT, DPT, CMTPT knows a thing or two about providing care to those who need it. As a senior physical therapist with Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Advanced Specialty Center in Williamsburg, Carter works with patients struggling to regain strength and independence in the wake of a medical crisis.

What stands out to Carter isn’t her patients’ struggle to get through a set of exercises or even make it from one piece of equipment to the next; it’s their fear and concern that somehow they’re a burden to the person helping them get to physical therapy.

“The person receiving therapy is often overly concerned that they don’t want to inconvenience the person who’s trying to do them a favor,” Carter said.

And the task of getting a friend or loved one who is unsteady on their feet to physical therapy isn’t easy or simple. It requires taking several hours out of your day. You might have to literally offer a shoulder for the patient to lean on as they get in and out of the car to make their way into the physical therapy clinic. And then you may find yourself sitting in a waiting room for more than an hour, only have to repeat the process to get the patient home.

That’s a lot of time and patience – especially when it’s several times a week for weeks or month on end. That’s why Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Williamsburg clinic, including the Advanced Specialty Center, is honoring patient caregivers with gift cards to Starbucks in recognition of National Family Caregivers Month, which began Nov. 1.

“There’s so many different people helping our patients,” Carter said.

Who is a Caregiver?

The typical caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for a 69-year-old female relative who is ailing from a long-term physical condition, according to a 2015 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute. She has been providing care for four years on average, spending up to 24 hours a week helping her loved one with things such as bathing, basic nursing care and shuttling to and from doctors’ appointments.

But from Carter’s perspective a caregiver can be anyone who lends a helping hand – the hired aid from a respite service, a volunteer who gives rides to senior citizens, a neighbor, a friend, a child or a spouse.

“Most of our patients rely on neighbors or family members to drive them and help get them into the clinic,” said Carter, the program director of the Advanced Specialty Center.

For one patient a recent foot surgery has cost her the ability to drive during her recovery.  And a series of setbacks and complications has meant that her husband has had to bring her to physical therapy for more than 20 visits over the last few months.

“She’s been relying on her husband for a long time,” Carter said.

Then there’s the dutiful driver who brings an elderly patient for his physical therapy each week. The driver goes out of his way to pick up the patient early, before finishing his route, to make sure the patient’s not late. And Carter said that same driver makes a special effort to get back to the clinic before the patient’s session is over so he doesn’t have to wait.

“He just sits in our parking lot until the patient’s ready to leave,” she said.

Little Things Matter

caregiverThe patients that Carter sees aren’t those recovering from typical orthopedic surgeries. These aren’t patients needing physical therapy to address pain. Her patients are often those suffering from a neurological trauma whether it’s a stroke, illness, vertigo or balance issues.

Many of Carter’s patients require more than just a ride to the doctor. Some struggle to even get out of the car and walk in the front door of the clinic. Their caregivers matter. A lot.

These patients need a stable, helping hand. That’s why it warms Carter’s heart when she sees a supportive, reliable person showing up and going the distance to help.

So when the patient recovering from foot surgery received the Starbucks gift card to give to her husband, the gesture hit close to home.

“She was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is the guy who’s been helping me for several, several months,” Carter said.

The kindness a caregiver provides can really make a difference.

“Leaving the house is sometimes therapeutic in and of itself,” Carter said. “These are people who might ordinarily be homebound. So it’s very meaningful for them to be able to get out in the community and receive a service they wouldn’t be able to get to on their own.”