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Pain Free at Last

Published on Sep. 23, 2020

Rehab Patient Doug Stowe Found Unexpected Pain Relief Amidst COVID-19

Munson healthcare pain management rehabWhen you suffer from chronic pain, remembering what “normal” feels like can be challenging to say the least. That’s exactly why Doug Stowe could hardly believe his good fortune last fall.

For the first time in a long time, the 82-year-old was feeling on top of the world – something he never expected at his age, especially given the relentless back problems that haunted him for over a decade, mostly in the form of excruciating pain felt mainly in his hip.

Prior to October 2019, Doug was at his wit’s end. After years of morphine treatments, the hip pain that began to dominate his life was discouraging. But with a heart condition and COPD, corrective back surgery was not an option. “What about physical therapy?” his neurosurgeon suggested. Doug’s ears perked up at the thought. Could an alternative like this really work?

At the advice of his doctor, Doug eagerly contacted Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center – Foster Family Health Center, one of Munson Medical Center’s five outpatient centers spanning the Grand Traverse region from Traverse City to Kingsley to Elk Rapids. Munson Medical Center’s unique partnership with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation in Grand Rapids offers local patients enhanced and specialized rehab services without traveling far from home.

Doug knew almost right away he'd made the right choice. An unexpected early Christmas present, Doug marveled at this notable difference in his pain.

"When I finished I was in excellent shape," he said. "And boy did I feel good by Christmas."


An Unexpected Setback

Munson healthcare pain rehab

Unfortunately for Doug, the reprieve from pain was short-lived. The day after Christmas, he began to experience what he describes as terrific pain in his abdomen. After a trip to Munson Medical Center's ER, Doug was quickly diagnosed with bowel obstruction, requiring emergency surgery, followed by a stretch of rest before he selected a nearby nursing home to begin rehabilitative care.

Doug’s recovery did not go as well as he’d hoped. He missed the feel-good energy he had before Christmas. Instead, he started to experience a series of setbacks. He returned to Munson 

Medical Center, this time under the additional care of two wound specialists.

As his wound healed, Doug grew nervous about his recovery. He voiced his concerns to his wound team, hoping they might have some recommendations. What happened next was something he never expected: a visit from two nurse liaisons with Munson Medical Center’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, Carly Fewins, MSN, RN, ONC, CRRN and Lisa Yanski, RN, CMSRN, CRRN. He learned about the unit’s special partnership with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation in Grand Rapids, much like Munson Medical Center’s special outpatient physical therapy program that had helped his back pain just a few months ago. This specialized inpatient unit was right in the hospital, just a wing away.

"They asked me if I was interested, and I was in their care within 24 hours," he said. “I felt right at home after just 15 minutes of being there."


Determined to Heal

munson healthcare rehab painAlthough he could barely stand, let alone walk, Doug began his treatment plan right away, with his devoted rehab team at his side.

"The next day I started therapy several hours daily – I’d do an hour and a half of physical therapy and occupational therapy in the morning. Then I'd go have lunch and do another hour and a half in the afternoon," he described. "It worked great.. It was not the easiest thing in the world, but it was kind of fun. The therapists were so good at what they did. They pushed me, but it didn't seem like it. They were patting me on the back the whole time."

Within just one week, Doug quickly transitioned from not being able to sit up in bed to feeling “great.” Under his team’s attentive eye, he felt confident there was no wrong move he could make.

"They kept close track of me, checking in with me all the time."

Beyond his daily gains in strength and mobility, Doug discovered a few more pleasant surprises along the way: tasty food and the company of an old friend who was also recovering in the unit. Restored by the comfort of good, nourishing meals, a familiar face, and the unwavering dedication of his therapy team, Doug made progress with each passing day.

"As we would walk, there was always a second person to assist me in case I couldn't go any further. And they would say, ‘Do you want to rest? Any time you want to rest just tell us.’ That worked super for me. I pushed myself a little harder because I knew I could the rest if I needed to. It seemed like they just knew what you could take and what you would be comfortable with."

When he wasn’t in therapy, Doug divided his time between resting and making friends with fellow patients. “It's small enough that you get to know everybody within a few days. We played cards and had a great time."

While his stay was more comfortable than he could’ve ever imagined, before Doug knew it, two weeks had passed and he was strong enough to continue his recovery back home. He could hardly believe that in just a matter of days, he’d gone from wheel-chair-bound to leaving the hospital on foot. As he climbed into the passenger seat to head home, Doug knew he was entering a whole new phase in his life.

"I just can't say enough about them," he continued. "They just did a tremendous job, I couldn't get over it. They made me feel so good that when I left I was ready to hit the bricks.”


Staying the Course

munson healthcare pain rehabDoug transitioned to home care and eagerly awaited his return to the outpatient physical, occupational, and speech therapy at Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center -  Foster Family Community Health Center in Traverse City – the same center that had worked with him just months prior to address his back pain.

But then the unexpected happened yet again. This time, it was a pandemic that posed an extra threat to at-risk patients like Doug. His concerned outpatient rehab team put him on a home exercise program and continued to monitor the situation remotely until it was safe to bring Doug in for one-on-one therapy this past June.

As spring turned into summer, Doug started his in-person therapy plan, focused on basic strengthening and functional stamina, with no hesitation.

"I feel safe. Everyone there always keeps their distance and wears a mask. They're so careful," he explained.

Once again, it didn’t take too long before Doug went from good to great. And while his continued treatment looks and feels slightly different because he wears a mask to stay safe, he’s noticed no difference in the quality of care.

"Not one bit. The only thing I’ve noticed is that they clean everything right away. You get off a chair or a piece of equipment, and they're there cleaning it. As far as care, nothing has changed. They're not afraid of their jobs. So many people are afraid of this thing. They're not afraid, they're just careful."

Doug’s physical therapist Jamie Bush, PT, was impressed with his go-get ‘em work ethic. “He is a pleasure to work with,“ Bush said. “The bulk of his success is purely related to that internal drive that we just fostered in an appropriate physical direction.

Doug says he’s back to nearly 100 percent. He looks forward to exercising every day, a personal goal he’s created for himself, and he’s proud to say that the cane he carries is just a safety net rather than a necessity. And the pain medication he took for so long? He no longer needs it.

“I tell people that Munson's the place to go. You know, other places might not care as much. They want you to keep coming back. With Munson, they got me on my feet and that was that. They know what they're doing.”


Rehab Care is Available 

The Mary Free Bed at Munson Medical Center inpatient rehabilitation unit is growing! Learn more about our multiple rehab services – including outpatient physical therapy – and all the ways our experts are helping you to get better, move better, and address your pain or other challenges.