The Troupes of Stilt-Walkers

 

By Patty Starr, President & CEO, Health Action Council

This past weekend marked my 12th appearance at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual Parade the Circle, a multi-cultural event for any and all ages drawing tens of thousands of people to University Circle each year. 

Spectators line up to watch the participants adorned in vibrant costumes and masks; riding colorful floats or the occasional unicycle; performing in drum lines and dance circles. 

One of the highlights of the parade are the troupes of stilt-walkers. Dressed boldly from head-to-toe in colorful outfits, the stilt-walkers tower above the crowds and controlled chaos of the parade, precariously balanced on wooden pegs. It’s an exhilarating experience and unlike anything I've ever done.

What’s surprising about this is that the inspiration to walk on stilts came from fracturing my hip nearly 13 years ago.

* * *

In 2006, I was working full time and physically active. I spent a lot of my free time swimming, going for long walks, or riding my bike through the many lovely neighborhoods on the east side of Cleveland. 

One October morning, I was biking with my sister and her friend. We were nearing the completion of a 12-mile ride when she called for a coffee break. The fact that I don’t drink coffee notwithstanding, I agreed because the day was beautiful, the patio was open, and I knew that they served tea.  

We were turning into the shopping plaza where the coffee house was located when my wheel got caught in the curb. I was falling. 

With an unceremonious thud, I went down like a ton of bricks. I laid there for a minute, completely stunned.  

After a bit, I got up. I could already feel the fall but I wasn’t hurt that bad. I was determined to bike home. However, I suddenly found myself moving slowly and finding it difficult to sit on the seat. So I grimaced and grunted until my sister finally convinced me to get a ride home. 

Her friend rode home quickly to get the car.

***

I did not go to the emergency room (even back then, I was all about appropriate ED utilization). At that moment, I didn’t believe that I had broken anything, I thought maybe a bad strain or a really ridiculously bad bruise, but certainly nothing worse. I was a young, fit and healthy woman! 

My sister called my D.O. Through sheer luck, he was not only in his office, but he could see me right away. When I arrived he gave me a thorough once-over and told me in no uncertain terms that I had to have my hip x-rayed. He sent me on my way (with my sister’s assistance) armed with a script for one bonafide x-ray. Within 20 minutes, we walked into the hospital. Little did I know, I would not be leaving that day. 

***

It’s never a good sign when you walk into a room for an x-ray and following the x-ray they return with a wheelchair and tell you that they are taking you to the emergency department. At the time my x-ray was taken, radiology had been in the process of switching from film to digital. Paper records were being transferred to EHRs and computers were not yet in every single room. As I lay in my bed, I was told that I had suffered a femoral neck fracture. I asked to see the x-ray since only people in their 80’s break hips, right? They apologized, but there was no way for me to see the x-ray. 

Talk about frustration. I did not believe that the image they had taken, the image I was not allowed to see belonged to me. Several of my family members had arrived at the hospital by this time and I had them look at the x-ray and verify it was broken and it was indeed mine. One after the other, they filtered back in my room to confirm that yes Patty, you’ve fractured your hip. And yes Patty, it is definitely your x-ray.

A surgeon was called. When he arrived, he said matter-of-factly that I needed emergency surgery as repairs had to be made within 8 hours of the injury to avoid a hip replacement.

***

When I came out of surgery, I was the not-so-proud recipient of not one, not two, but three brand new 5” long, 1/4” wide screws holding my hip together. 

The surgery was successful and the doctor followed up with my rehabilitation plan before discharging me. He told me that if I kept up with my home therapy exercises first and then followed it up with physical therapy, I would be better in three months. But what he didn’t tell me was that after those three months I would be on a walker and that the true length of recovery was more like a year.

I did the home exercises. They took about three hours each day. When I reported this back to my doctor, he was flabbergasted. I was not supposed to be doing all of them every day. Their best practice was to give patients a comprehensive list of exercises hoping that they would do one or two of them every day.

***

After a couple of months of revised home therapy sessions, I was sent to physical therapy where I was quickly kicked out “due to complications.” Another way of saying, “because we don’t want the liability." In true Patty fashion, I researched like crazy and came up with my own rehabilitation program.

It took another six months before I was allowed to drive.

It wasn’t until 2008, more than a year after my surgery, that I finally felt normal. Or at least as close to normal as one can with gigantic steel screws holding their hip together. I had been swimming for some time and even ventured out on my bike occasionally. On one memorable afternoon, I was walking out of the Cleveland Art Museum and came upon a group of practicing stilt-walkers. I stopped and marveled at how they stayed up and bounced from leg to leg. Having just spent more than one year of my life trying to just get back to normal, back to what I used to enjoy doing before the accident, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something new.

I was offered the chance to try and have celebrated my ability to walk every year since by walking on stilts in Parade the Circle..

***    

When I think about this story, I see parallels to our workforce. Being a patient is one of the toughest things a person can go through and sometimes it’s a long, drawn-out process. From the moment a seemingly healthy person learns that they are no longer healthy, it almost doesn’t seem real. Not at first. And then when the reality of the situation comes crashing down, a lot is expected of patients to not only work to get themselves better but to know how to get better.

And it’s during this difficult time that we expect employees to remember everything that we have educated them on during open enrollment. We expect them to know their benefits and to be fully engaged in whatever new information we’re putting in front of them. We place these expectations on our employees oftentimes without fully knowing their circumstances. 

We may not be “in the know” of an employee’s situation but we must always remember that the majority of what determines a person’s health takes place outside of the four walls of our organizations and outside of the healthcare system. To truly know our employee populations we may need to broaden our focus beyond medical care, benefits, and the costs associated with them and start looking at our employees for what they are: people. People doing their best with the resources they have. People whose health is affected by far more than illness and injury. People who make up our organizations and whom we rely on for everything. 

People, much like the troupes of stilt-walkers, who are carefully navigating their way through life, doing their best not to fall.

Posted: 6/11/2019 5:57:30 PM | with 0 comments
Filed under: healthcare, parade the circle, patient
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