The challenges and rewards of rehabilitation - opinion

Imagine yourselves at the age of 15, with a million plans for the future, but facing a shocking reality where those plans were crumbling around them.

 RECOVERY CAN be a walk in the park. (photo credit: ALYN HOSPITAL)
RECOVERY CAN be a walk in the park.
(photo credit: ALYN HOSPITAL)

Imagine Lior, a young secular woman, who, out of the blue, woke up one day without feeling in her legs and was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Imagine Talya, a young religious woman, who was suddenly diagnosed with a rare bone tumor that caused paralysis of the lower half of her body. Imagine the fear in the hearts of these young girls and their anxiety about the future. Imagine yourselves at the age of 15, with a million plans for the future, but facing a shocking reality where those plans were crumbling around them.

How much mental strength do these young women need, who lived their lives as teenagers without problems, and without warning found themselves facing a long and arduous rehabilitation at the ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem?

The happiness and satisfaction of rehabilitation

Suddenly happiness and satisfaction take on a completely different form: to be able to move a leg, to be able to stand, to walk; to walk without support. These are the small miracles in the new lives of young people who fall ill unexpectedly, who feel their worlds collapse, and who are then reborn, as adolescents, into a new reality.

Illustrative image of a teenage girl sitting alone.  (credit: PXHERE)
Illustrative image of a teenage girl sitting alone. (credit: PXHERE)

I see miracles like this at ALYN Hospital almost every day. Children who enter with fearful eyes usually leave weeks or months later with a big smile on their faces, new tools to return to normal life, and above all, hope for the future.

It is not easy to send children back to their communities after a long rehabilitation period, because rehabilitation does not end when you leave the main gate of the hospital. It continues, and must continue, at home as well. This is why we at ALYN are constantly looking for ways to continue rehabilitation in creative ways. In this field, you have to think outside the box. Trying to rehabilitate a child is like trying to hit a moving target. The reason is that growth and change are the essence of child development. 

Another challenge is that, for children, rehabilitation exercises must be engaging and fun in order to be effective.

This is how, 10 years ago, the “Swift and Bold” ALYN bike riders group was started. Volunteers and children, patients, and former patients, aged 10-22, come together to train for a five-day annual bike ride, “Wheels of Love,” with hundreds of riders from around the world. 

This is how we established the travel project, the “Bold Trekkers,” in which a group of teenagers, who have completed their rehabilitation process in ALYN, meet for short trips of 2-3 km. with ALYN volunteers and physiotherapists. Eventually, they go on a two-day final hike, during which they walk a challenging route of 6-7 km. each day, and then get to sleep out in the field.

If this sounds a bit like an annual school trip, then that’s no accident. The Bold Trekkers were founded for the many young people who after finishing rehabilitation in ALYN return home but do not integrate into the community easily. Often, they cannot participate in annual school hiking trips, or play soccer during recess without getting tired.

This group provides them with a goal and a physical challenge no less than a sense of belonging, of brotherhood, and of a shared destiny.

The trips themselves are special in that the very act of being in nature and leaving their comfort zone encourages openness. During the trips, the members ask that everyone tell their rehabilitation stories. We got to hear everyone’s perspective on their experiences during and after rehabilitation. This also contributed to the feeling of camaraderie and unity. Only those who have gone through a rehabilitation process know how challenging it is, which sometimes their friends at home don’t understand, and this intensifies feelings of loneliness.

The trips were also accompanied by volunteers who are their peers in terms of age and ability, so much so that it is difficult for an observer from the side to distinguish who is a volunteer and who is not.

At the end of another successful year, it can be said with certainty that the group achieved its goals. The teens reported completing trials that they hadn’t thought they could; they shared what they went through in the rehabilitation process; they upheld the responsibilities assigned to them; and in general, they created a cohesive and united group, experiencing a sense of accomplishment and success, as well as a lot of fun.

And Lior and Talia? They became best friends. One in a skirt, the other in short jeans, both of them conquering every mountain and slope along the way like the two champions they discovered themselves to be.

The writer is a physiotherapist at ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital in Jerusalem.