Improving patients’ everyday lives
Do you know what a neurological physiotherapist does? Reporter Rose Cawley looks into the specialist field and how it changes people’s quality of life. DAILY GRIND
Julie Rope is often asked do you massage brains?’
It is one of the weird and wonderful questions that come up thanks to her job title.
The Mt Eden resident started her love affair with physiotherapy as an injuryprone sports enthusiast.
As a teenager she worked as a receptionist in a physiotherapy clinic before heading to Otago to study the profession.
In her senior rounds she stumbled upon the field of neurological physiotherapy – assessing and treating people with impairments like traumatic brain injury, strokes, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries or Parkinson’s.
‘‘You weren’t just making someone say: ‘Thanks, my knee feels better.’ They were saying: ‘I was able to walk my daughter down the aisle’.
‘‘It was really raw, you saw a lot and you felt a lot and I think that is when my heart decided what it wanted to do.’’
Then the bright spark headed off to England for her OE.
‘‘It was still easy to get jobs and I worked under some of the most inspiring, energetic and talented neuro physios.
‘‘I was there for the bombings, so we had all the bombing patients come through. I learnt a lot,’’ she says.
But it was a chance encounter with a patient at a London hospital which became one of the highlights of her career.
BBC reporter Frank Gardner was shot six times in an assassination attempt by al Qaeda gunmen while filming in Saudi Arabia.
‘‘He was my patient and I moved from that hospital after seeing him for about a month. He wouldn’t let any other therapist see him so BBC paid for me to go back and see him every day after my job,’’ she says.
Gardner suffered a severe spinal cord injury from the point-blank attack.
‘‘I was there when he got his OBE from the Queen and he managed to walk up there and get that which was huge thing. I was pretty emotional for him.’’
The 39-year-old says dealing with the diagnoses and helping patients can be heartbreaking.
‘‘Sometimes you have to say: ‘We are maintaining you but we are not going to improve you’.
‘‘Some of the diagnoses aren’t good. Some of them are a stroke and then you move forward, some of them have a motor neuron disease where you can’t set goals because goals are not achievable.’’
But she says she wakes up happy to go to work because she knows she can help, even if it is in the smallest way.
‘‘There is always something that we can do, even if it is picking up their morale or improving their fitness.’’
She says being able to improve patients’ everyday lives was at the heart of her decision to start her own business.
‘‘If I have a Parkinson’s patient who froze when they went into the TAB then I would take them to the TAB and look at that environment – it is not practising it in your chair in your lounge because they can do that.
‘‘They freeze when they are in a certain environment so we need to take them to that environment.’’
Helping hands: Neurological phsiotherapist Julie Rope says knowing she makes a positive difference is what gets her out of bed in the morning.