Yokota physical therapy: The road to recovery
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Twenty-two-year-old Linda Currier was a lieutenant stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, for pilot training. Having washed out, she was in a hold pattern, wondering where her new career would lead her. The weekend of July 4, 1999, she and friends drove to Atlanta. Currier fell asleep in the car without a seatbelt. The tread separated from one of the back tires, causing the vehicle to roll. Currier was thrown through the window, hit the ground, and shattered her lower vertebrae.
Tragedies like these are not uncommon. In a mere moment, a new career can turn to lifelong paralysis or death. However, 16 years later, now Lt. Col. Currier is helping people recover from their own injuries as a physical therapist for the 374th Surgical Operations Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
"I had to relearn to walk again," Currier said, "So even something really simple like walking around a table took about a week after the accident. For the first month I was using a cane."
With more than 1,200 appointments per year, Currier helps personnel recover from a variety of injuries such as basketball mishaps, accidents on the track and field, and gym workouts gone wrong. After evaluating patients, she determines which exercises they need to perform to begin recovery. Squats, leg lifts, treadmills and a hand-held bow that wobbles back and forth to work the patient's shoulder muscles are a few of the many resources in Currier's toolbox.
"I really like the fitness aspect and teaching that fitness aspect to other people and seeing them start from where they have an injury and watching them recover from that," Currier said.
However, recovery is often a long, challenging process that does not lead to a full restoration.
"Our objective is to get functionality back," said Senior Airman Hannah Connor, 374 SGCS physical therapy technician.
Currier has seen many patients come to the clinic expecting a quick and full recovery. What they struggle with most is patience. It is difficult for many to accept that they might not be fully restored to their pre-injury condition.
Tech. Sgt. Terrionia Sutton, one of Currier's patients, injured her knee playing basketball. She says recovery has been difficult, yet perhaps not in the way one would expect. Physical challenges are attainable, but overcoming self-doubt is challenging.
"It's just really difficult to have to depend on other people and to have to rehabilitate yourself," Sutton said.
It's common for patients to struggle harder with the mental aspect than with physical challenges, which is an experience that Currier spoke of as well.
"I remember for myself there were times where I would get frustrated and I wasn't sure if I was progressing," Currier said. "I remember crying and wondering 'Am I ever going to get back to running?'"
Yet persistence often pays off. Currier said that the most rewarding part of being a physical therapist is seeing people who are motivated enough to work hard and recover despite obstacles. Currier has watched a number of patients recover beyond her and their own expectations.
One quicker way for qualified patients to recover is through the new Direct Access Clinic, which helps certain patients get more immediate attention. If an active duty patient has begun to experience musculoskeletal pain within past three months they might bypass longer waiting times for an appointment. The patient can call the normal appointment line at 225-7577 to see if they fit the criteria and get an appointment, leading to quicker recovery.