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A Worthwhile Walk

Story One of "A Day in the Life" series: Mid South Physical Therapist, Crystal Freeman

Do you think about your feet when you walk? When you take a step, do you have to make sure you do it right? Do your feet turn in or out? Do you often think about balance?

A physical therapist does. A physical therapist thinks about patients’ feet, legs, muscles, bones, balance, speed, and so much more as they walk. It is amazing to watch as they guide patients through seemingly simple exercises, but, you see, they are anything but simple. The damage done by injuries, strokes, and other accidents make these exercises vital steps on the road to recovery. The work of a physical therapist is sometimes misunderstood or confusing to those of us not in the field. How does holding a bar and stepping to the left and right or climbing stairs really help someone who has suffered an injury? I wondered all of these things, wondered what a physical therapist really does all day - so I met one.

Crystal Freeman, DPT, graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Physiology and a minor in Biology. She got her DPT from the University of South Alabama, and after visiting her grandmother in the hospital, she took her first job as a physical therapist at what is now Field Health System. Although she was not planning to live near her hometown of Woodville, Mississippi, she ended up making her life right there. Now a wife to Justin and mom to Carter and Gracen, Crystal enjoys the flexibility and variation in her schedule. Each day, she sees inpatient clients from the hospital’s swing bed program as well as her typical outpatient clients. She is always busy.

Crystal guides exercises demonstrating just how to lift this leg, bend that knee. She explains why the exercise is necessary - what muscles it strengthens and how. But, she also listens. Her patients describe pain and their care, but they also tell her stories, ask her personal questions, chat about traffic, relationships, and the community. Crystal congratulates them on accomplishments, wishes them well on things to come. All the while, she is counting, manning the stopwatch, watching for her patients to tense, move, falter. She is taking notes. I am amazed at how many things she does at once.

She is on the floor next to a patient’s leg, trying to help her with keeping it straight as the patient stands. They are laughing, but they are working. The patient had a stroke, causing paralysis damage on one whole side of her body. A cracked hip from a fall later down the road did not help matters, but the patient is getting around surprisingly well despite all this. She can walk with us outside, from the sidewalk and onto grass, down and up an incline. She can bend over, balance, and pick a rock from the path. They practice going up and down a staircase with Crystal asking the patient, “Can you start on this leg? What happens if we try this?” She is gently pushing her, trying to test how the patient would react without her presence in different scenarios.

Crystal chats with her about the town gossip, but although she seems relaxed, I see how quickly Crystal’s reflexes are when the patient briefly stops to swat a fly. Crystal snapped into action at the sight of her stop so quickly that I am not sure the patient even noticed she was on alert.

It is fascinating. It is inspiring. But, the work is not done. After the patients leaves, Crystal has documentation to do. She needs lunch. She has other patients as well. Every little in-between moment she has is spent at the laptop, trying to accurately document all that transpired for each session. I cannot imagine sitting down at that laptop and trying to explain everything she did, everything we all witness the patient accomplish, learn, struggle to complete. I could not depict every bit of it because it was just so much was done in that one session, and that is coming from a writer.

I ask her what her favorite thing about her job is, and she answered me quickly: “the people.”

She goes on to detail that the patients and coworkers make her work rewarding and worthwhile. She smiles at the office manager and tells me, “That girl right there is my friend.”

When I ask her about her greatest accomplishment, the thing about herself she is most proud of in her work, she surprises me. I was expecting her to rattle off some certifications or something of the sort.

“I am most proud of my loyalty throughout my career to this hospital, to this community.”

My visit to Field Health System in Centreville, Mississippi taught me so much. I did not know that a rural community hospital could look and feel as luxurious as a comfortable hotel. I did not know how life-changing therapy can be. Crystal’s patients could not walk, grip, step until she stepped in with her impressive skills and caring heart.

Spending a day in the life of a physical therapist proved to me that, first, we should thank God for our health, our ability to walk right through life without thinking about how to walk. Secondly, we should thank God that if tragedy were to strike, there is a physical therapist out there who will strike back harder.

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