When I was 30 years old I had surgery to remove a meningioma that was located between my brain stem and cerebellum. Some people are surprised that I had surgery under those circumstances. Because of the location of the tumor, I ended up with a lot of physical impairments after surgery. I had difficulty even sitting up, and I also had ataxia and intention tremor. I needed a lot of assistance to move around.
I’m a physical therapist, so I knew what to expect, but it was still difficult because of my personality. I’m someone who definitely wants to keep moving forward and I can’t sit still, so I wanted to do things I wasn’t ready for.
I’ve worked with a lot of therapists since my surgery—physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, and recreation therapists. Of course, they were all my co-workers before, and now I’m there as the patient.
There are a few things patients should know about physical therapy. One, they have to be realistic with their goals and realize that there isn’t going to be a quick fix that can resolve whatever impairment they have. They’re going to have to work for their recovery, and when they understand that, they can build a good relationship with their therapists. And they need to understand that they’re going to be doing a lot of their exercises on their own, because most of their improvements aren’t going to happen in the clinic, they’re going to happen at home. They really have to do their homework.
I’ve made a lot of progress due to my physical therapy, and I’m still very positive that I will continue to make progress. I’m pretty religious about doing my prescribed at-home exercises, and coming up with my own exercises as well. I do a lot of walking around my apartment, and at the gym I walk on the treadmill or Stairmaster, ride the stationery bikes, and try to lift weights whenever I can. I have a few goals. One is improving my mobility. When I left the hospital I was in a wheelchair, and now I use crutches. I also have to work on using my left hand more, because if I don’t force myself to use it, I’ll lose functioning. I have fewer problems on my right side, so it’s easy to neglect working my left.
It’s been a very long road so far. I’ve really had to learn patience. I like to focus on what I can do, and then just extend on that. But in terms of keeping my spirits up, I don’t like to look behind me. I’m always looking forward. The main thing is if you think you can do it, the only thing limiting you is yourself.
Eric has a doctoral degree in physical therapy and is the founder of mAss Kickers Foundation.