Physical therapy helped LeeAnn Schmitt grow stronger after she broke her hip and femur, but it was the fellowship and encouragement of others that she says accelerated her recovery.
“It’s just a huge motivator when you have other people cheering you on,” says Schmitt, 62. “People you don’t even know are cheering for you. It just made a huge difference.”
The retired office worker spent three weeks at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital at Little River,an affiliate of Encompass Health, after a fall in her home in mid-June left her with broken left hip and femur. It was the same hip she’d broken back in 2016 after a fall on black ice in the driveway of her previous home in New York, three years before she and husband Paul retired and moved to southeastern North Carolina.
“My legs had locked in place, but my body didn’t know my legs had stopped, and I fell forward, hitting my head on the bathroom tile and slamming my hip into the floor,” Schmitt recalls. “I was in such agony.”
Schmitt was hospitalized for several days. She underwent surgery to replace the existing titanium rods and hardware that had been damaged in her fall and to repair her broken hip and femur. When her physician said she’d need intensive physical therapy to recover and recommended Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Schmitt balked at the idea.
“I was a very unhappy person,” she says. “I was pouting like a five-year-old. I just wanted to go home. Under duress, I said I’d go.”
‘Your song is coming’
Once settled in at the rehab hospital, Schmitt’s attitude began to shift as she watched her medical team carefully craft a plan to help her recover from surgery and get back to her former self.
“When I first got there, I thought I’d never get out,” she says. “I thought I’d never see my kids, my grandkids, my house. I was mad at the world.”
She immediately wanted to know how long it would be before she could go home.
A board in her room that projected her discharge date and charted her daily goals and accomplishments was a monumental motivator.
“When you wake up and see that every day, you find strength and hope,” she says.
Even more motivating than the progress board in Schmitt’s room were the discharge days for fellow hospital patients, she says. At Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital, patients heading home get a huge send-off with music, a public announcement and encouragement from others on the floor and the care team.
“They play a song on the speakers and people open their doors and wave goodbye,” Schmitt says. “I was in bed when they opened my door, and I remember the look on one gentleman’s face as he was being discharged. He waved at me and wished me luck and said, ‘Your song is coming.’”
As Schmitt went through physical and occupational therapy, she marveled at the genuine concern displayed by her care team.
“They’re professional, caring and they give you the will to keep working,” she says. “They really made me feel like it’s not just a job to them. They share bits about their lives, and you feel like you’re being cared for by family. They want to see you succeed.”
Shanna Gwyn, one of Schmitt’s therapists, says she was a “joy to work with.”
“She was motivated, had a great sense of humor and was simply amazing,” Gwyn says. “There were ups and downs, but she took everything in stride.”
The progress board in every patient’s room, the celebratory send-offs and the fellowship all help motivate patients, Gwyn says.
“The more motivated they are to participate, the more gains they make in therapy,” she adds. “And the more gains they make, the more motivated they are to continue participating in therapy and improve even further.”
Schmitt’s big celebration came on July 10. In addition to fellow patients, everyone from members of the hospital’s environmental services team to a respiratory therapist stopped by her room to say goodbye.
“Tears were rolling down my face,” she recalls. “I was leaving one family and going home to another.”
Samantha Sellers, Schmitt’s attending registered nurse, says Schmitt’s positive attitude and hard work helped her improve and earn her a well-deserved send-off.
“She was always willing try to do as much as she could and be as independent as she could, even on the bad days,” Sellers says. “Attitude plays almost 100 percent into a patient’s recovery. If they’re not as positive as they can be, they’re not going to see the point in physical therapy. Even on bad days, you have to look at where you were on the first day or yesterday and look at what you’re doing today. If you’re just doing two steps, then you celebrate those two steps.”
Schmitt will continue her therapy at home as she grows stronger each day. She says she’s looking forward to visiting with her neighbors and making trips to spend time with family up north once she’s mobile again. She and husband have three sons and three daughters as part of their blended family, plus nine granddaughters.
“I also want to reconnect with everyone who’s done anything and everything for me,” she says. “Everything I’ve been through makes you want to rid your life of the petty things and just give back, connect with other people and just be a good human being.”
Her experience at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Hospital gave her a glimpse into the human condition and underscored for her the importance of making connections with others.
“I’m making progress because of where I started,” she says. “Going to Tidelands was the best decision I ever made. How long can you stay cranky around so many nice people? It’s about watching others reach a milestone that keeps you from pitying yourself. And it was without anyone having to say anything. Just watching them succeed and making progress was everything.”