Friday, December 9, 2011

You want to go where everybody knows your name

I'm not much for the bar scene, but I've always been a fan of the '80s show "Cheers" -- you know the one. It starred Ted Danson, and was about a disparate group of people who found a defacto family in a Boston tavern.

I had surgery several days ago and am in the process of undergoing some pretty challenging physical therapy to get everything back in working order. Three years ago, after undergoing a similar surgery, I chose to rehabilitate my knee at a place called Johnston Physical Therapy. I'm going there again now, and whenever I walk in the door, the "Cheers" theme song runs through my head. The main refrain is: "You want to go where everybody knows your name." And as cheesy as it sounds, that's the kind of place it is.

Never having been an athlete, I had known nothing about physical therapy until my son, Scott, hurt his knee playing hockey several years ago. Someone recommended JPT to us, and off we went; Scott rehabbed there a few times a week, and I learned a lot. But as Scott was 17 at the time and didn't always want his mommy tagging along to rehab, I didn't immerse myself as much as I wanted to in the process and was left to wonder why he was doing certain exercises, why they were taping his knee, and just how critical all this was to his recovery.

When I had my first knee replacement, in 2008, I learned all that and more. Above all, I learned that in a time of impersonal medical mega-practices and hospitals that want to get you out of their beds as quickly as possible, a practice that truly wants to get to know you and determine how to best help you is rare indeed.

Here's what they do that's truly different: They tap into who you are and how you're likely to best accomplish your goals. Andrew, pictured above, is the guy who owns the place, and I've been fortunate enough to have him as my therapist both times now. Early on, he determined that I'm competitive and tend to do better when he dangles some sort of number or distance in front of me. Yesterday, he mentioned the fact that at my last appointment, I hadn't activated my quad muscle as much as he would have liked. Duly challenged, I did what he was asking me to do, and more. Later, I found out that he had made the whole thing up; he simply wanted to see how much better I could do if he made me believe I hadn't done well enough last time.

Well done, Andrew. The result is that I'm achieving the goals he's set for me, and I'm on my way to full mobility in my surgical knee. The really notable thing, though, is that I love going to physical therapy. Again, keep in mind that I'm historically not a person who likes to move any more than I have to, so that's a big deal.

I hold no illusions about being any more special than any other client, so the way I'm treated there is amazing to me; after an absence of three years, I came back to the same group of therapists; a few had been added, but none had left. No turnover in three years; that's remarkable in my book. And the therapists there recalled not only that I had had a knee replaced, but the degree to which I ended up being able to bend that knee after all was said and done.

And here's something I'll always remember: A combination of bad meds and overwhelming pain last time reduced me to tears on a couple of occasions, and I spent two entire therapy sessions crying my way through the stationary bike, exercises and kinesiology. Instead of reacting as any number of people would -- i.e., saying "Get the crazy lady off my table" -- Andrew reassured Kevin and me that me feelings were normal, and that they would pass. And they did.

I have the utmost respect for my orthopedic surgeon, for the anesthesiologists who put me to sleep and woke me up again, and for a few of the nurses who took care of me in the hospital -- the ones who actually knew what my medications were for, didn't forget to give them to me, and managed to lock the bed so I didn't fall (that's a story for later).

But more than anything, I owe my recovery to an unassuming guy named Andrew who has cultivated a staff of truly caring therapists. A sign in the facility's entry way says something about, "People won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Luckily for me and for other Johnston Physical Therapy patients, that's not just a cliche.


  1. Lisa, I can echo all your sentiments about Johnston Physical Therapy.

    Nate went there first, years ago, because he had bursitis in his hip and needed to work on flexibility. He worked with Rodney and Andrew, and they both totally dialed into his personality right off the bat. Nate had a ball going to PT.

    I turned up there three years ago with back pain. I dragged myself in one day and Bev said, “How are you?” and I burst into tears. She jumped up and got me straight into a room, where I pretty much just fell apart. Amy and Pam came in right away and took my pulse and blood pressure and examined me a little. They pronounced me unfit for PT because my pain was far, far too acute. They marched out of the room and called the physician who had sent me to them from an appointment with him that day and told him there was no way they were working on me until my pain was more manageable, and gave some feedback about what the next steps should be.

    I mainly worked with Pam, who was so kind and gentle with me. She knew I was very fragile and hanging on by a thread. She encouraged me to advocate for an MRI and to get into a pain management specialist. Once I got my diagnosis of the herniated T11 disc, she told me that that had been her hunch, but she didn’t want to say. She (and a cortisone shot) got me back on my feet.

    I was back in their office this spring with my back and spent some time with Amy. Again, her gentle ministrations and a cortisone shot got me upright again.

    This fall, Nate injured his knee and we found our way back to JPT. Rodney and Phil and Andrew worked and worked with him, again, dialing in to his nature and making the time fun.

    Nate is even considering becoming a physical therapist because of the environment in that office, and the way he sees the therapists being active and helping people. Andrew has even said that once he is 16 he could possibly work in the office, to see if he really does have an interest.

    Bev and I had a talk one day when I was waiting for Nate. She has quite a commute … but when Andrew asked her to come work in Johnston, she knew that she wanted to do it, because of Andrew and the type of business he runs.

    I really can’t say enough good things about JPT and everyone there. I’m glad that’s where you are. I know you’re in great hands. Tell them Amy and Nate say hi.

  2. Amy, I had no idea you and Nate had been there so often. I'm so glad your experience has been as positive as mine. I had a rough day Friday and found myself close to tears simply because everyone there was so kind and comforting. The whole group of people is truly one of a kind! I hope Nate follows through with his interest in becoming a PT. What a loving, giving profession that is!

  3. Oh how I love PTs. They are a special breed.