Injury, surgery and rehab during PT school: Meet James Liaw

Name: James Liaw, Class of 2018

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Undergrad: University of California, Davis

Fun Fact: Climbing! More Climbing, snowboarding…let’s go climb.

 

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Getting injured is always going to be hard to deal with, but you never realize how much it will affect you until you’re experiencing it firsthand. The summer after my senior year of high school, I hurt my left wrist; I did not find out until this semester—six years later!—that I had broken the scaphoid and it had never healed. Deciding to get it fixed in my second semester of PT school was tough, but necessary: as we will be learning many hands-on tests and measures this summer to use for our first fall clinical, I figured now was the best time for the surgery. Since I’ve always been interested in hands, I did a lot of my own research. A vascularized bone graft over my scaphoid would normally be the best option, but, because my fracture was practically ancient, my surgeon and I decided that the best option was to get a four-corner fusion.

After waking up from surgery, though, I learned that there was a complication. The goal had been to fuse the carpels and have my lunate articulate with the radius instead of the scaphoid; when my surgeon began, though, she found that there had already been damage to the surface. She decided that it was best for me to get a proximal row carpetomy (PRC) to preserve as much ROM as she could. So, essentially, the surgeon took out the scaphoid, lunate and triquetrum in order to have my wrist articulate at the capitate.

It was only after undergoing my PRC that I realized how much I utilized both my hands for everyday activity—and, particularly, that I could no longer climb. Losing my main source of both stress relief and fun hit me hard. I tried to find other things to fill the time and to burn off the excess energy that I had from sitting in class all day, but, to be honest, nothing really worked. Not climbing made me restless and unmotivated to study. My life had been built around climbing and school, so losing half of that was devastating. Everyone was extremely supportive and assured me that I would get back to climbing in no time, but this “short” stint of five weeks of immobilization felt like forever—and, almost just as paralyzing as the cast was the constant worry that I would lose the climbing ability I had worked so hard to attain.

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James created his own customized walker to practice in the Class of 2018’s transfer and mobility lab

That time in the cast gave me more insight into what my future patients will be feeling:  I felt helpless as I sat in lecture, hand over my head to reduce swelling, and thinking about my four years of climbing work slipping out from my fingers. This is the kind of thought that we will have to deal with. Patients will come in with an injury and with goals and fears of never reaching them, and I can see more clearly now that it’s going to be my job, as a clinician, to assist with both physical rehabilitation and help motivate them to push past their fears.

Dealing with an injury can be large distraction from school. Luckily (or unluckily), I have other classmates that are going through a similar process with their injuries, and we have formed a support group to talk about our experiences. All the professors have been very supportive, and I’ve also learned a lot about wrist and hand injuries in the last month through obsessive research (it’s reinforcing Regis’ emphasis on evidence-based practice!). I will be starting physical therapy soon and I’m looking forward to getting back on track—and, hopefully, more energized than I have been in the last month. Even though I have a long way to go, I can’t help but be excited about healing up and enjoying the beautiful Colorado climbing!

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