Having a rehabilitation plan for recovery and managing the illness or injury sometimes feels like an afterthought in the treatment and care of people with serious health issues.

Unfortunately, I often hear of people being discharged without any information other than medical information on managing their recovery and ongoing rehabilitation.

These people were lucky if the nurses gave them information from a charity or signposted them to a charity that could give them information and support.

You can feel lost at sea wondering what you can do, how you can help yourself. If you learn that someone in a similar position to you did get more info, advice and a plan, it can feel very unfair.

A woman is in a boat and there is a smallish sail that has 'medical sail' written on it. The woman is noticing that the wind is picking up but she is saying, "I wish I had a bigger sail. It will take forever to get home.' Two fish in the sea are talking to one another. One is saying, 'She needs a Return To Wellness sail.' This picture demonstrates that a rehabilitation plan needs to contain more than just medical information to help you in your recovery and rehabilitation.

As I’ve said many times before, as a patient you don’t know what you don’t know when you are diagnosed with a serious health issue or become seriously injured. It’s not like you have read up on the health issue beforehand. So in the early stages, you are very reliant on the medical and healthcare professionals. Learning they have the information but didn’t give it to you can feel like a betrayal of sorts.

I operate on the basis that ‘knowledge is power’ and we can certainly take control and influence our rehabilitation. If you wait for someone else to tell you what to do, you could be waiting for a very long time. Or if someone like a peer who also has your health issue tells you what you can or ‘should’ be doing, it may not be right for you.

So I want to share what I’ve learned about creating a rehabilitation plan as someone who has had a serious illness and having been in the caring role. As a precursor to this though, this blog focuses on the 10 principles which underpin a good rehabilitation plan. I’ll focus on the how to’s of creating your rehab plan next week.

Here are 10 principles of a good #rehabilitation plan. Read more here. #recovery #seriousillness #seriousinjury Share on X

A rehabilitation plan is holistic

It focuses on the medical aspects of your issue and the non-medical too. In fact, the non-medical part of it can be pretty extensive. It may also include any social care needs you have such as benefits, obtaining necessary equipment and/or adaptations to your home.

It focuses on what matters to you

What is important to you, the daily activities which are the highest priority for you to return to, and what you want to be doing because it makes you happy.  

A good rehabilitation plan involves those close to you

The people close to you are your support network. AND YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. It can make a positive difference in your rehabilitation (Reblin & Uchino, 2008).

These people may be family members, relatives, friends, colleagues, others who have a similar illness or injury, and/or your pets. These people are your cheerleaders, they give you comfort when you feel down or are having a bad time of it, they help you with your physiotherapy, shopping, cooking dinner, cleaning your house, looking after your children, helping you if you have a health emergency or something else.

You can of course involve close family members in helping you create those aspects of your plan that may involve them, for example returning to favourite family activities. This gives them a role in supporting you, which can be great for them as they know how they can help you. And good for you to have that active support. A key thing is letting them support you. A rehabilitation plan does not have to be a solo effort.

A mother who now uses a stick to walk, her young son and husband are sitting at the dining table helping the mother create her rehabilitation plan. Her son says, "Mummy, running is exercise. We can play tag in the park!' His mummy responds, "Oh honey! I cannot run anymore. But maybe we can create a new tag game." The father is smiling and saying, 'Make sure to slot me in under me-time!' He is also thinking about how proud he is of his wife. This picture demonstrates that creating and implementing your or a loved one's rehabilitation plan does not need to be a solo effort.

It specifies what kind of specialist expertise you need and who can provide that

You may not know how to do some things in your plan so you may enlist the help of someone who does. You may need support with an issue that feels too big to handle on your own. A problem shared is a problem halved as they say. There may be an activity you need to do that requires a specific expertise you don’t have, like physiotherapy, osteopathy, or a coach for example.

A rehabilitation plan can specify what specialist expertise you need or want and who can provide that. But some people don't like needing help. This pic says, 'We have the saying in our society that 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. So why do we stigmatise getting help?

It is goal oriented

You may have a big goal broken down into smaller goals. Or it may be a series of smaller goals. Some of these goals may be key milestones, like being able to walk with good balance and not falling down for 500 meters.

Your rehabilitation plan can be adapted

As you implement your rehabilitation plan you may find that you need to adapt it as your recovery progresses (however slow or fast that is), stalls or you experience a setback.

As you are not a static person never changing, neither is your rehabilitation plan. Flexibility to adapt as you learn what works and as things change is key.

You are not a static person never changing, so neither is your #rehabilitation plan. Flexibility to adapt as you learn what works and as things change is key. #recovery #seriousillness #seriousinjury Share on X

It contains a section on what you need to do when you experience a bad patch

This may be a setback in your recovery or you experience a fluctuation in symptoms or a relapse. This is kind of like a sub-plan of your main rehabilitation plan which you implement as and when you need to.

Your rehabilitation plan contains a section on what to do in an emergency

For example, if you have a spinal cord injury at T6 (T = thoracic level), you may be at risk for autonomic dysreflexia, which can be life threatening if not treated. Another example is hypoglycaemia if you have diabetes. So if you are at risk of having a health emergency and you may need the support of others to stabilise tings, you need to have in your plan what has to be done, medications to take, who to call, etc.

It contains a section on how you look after yourself when you are doing really well too

Just like you have a plan for when you are not doing well, you have a plan for when you are doing well. These might include favourite activities that you really enjoy doing and can do when symptoms are quiet or well controlled, or you are feeling physically and/or mentally well. For example, going to a concert or play, spending a day, afternoon or evening with friends, going on a walking weekend, entertaining, bubble bath, etc.

A good #rehabilitation plan will cover all the bases – when you are going through a bad period, what you need in an emergency and what you do when times are good #recovery #seriousillness #chronicillness Tell a friend

Your rehabilitation plan is for life

You may be thinking, ‘What the…???’

But yes, rehabilitation is an ongoing process. When you’ve experienced a life-changing illness or injury, often times your body has changed forever. It, and you, need tender loving care. And you need to provide that and make that a priority.

Sometimes you may not make noticeable gains in your recovery and you may have even experienced a plateau and wonder if there is any point in continuing. But keeping to your rehabilitation plan often means you don’t regress, i.e. you don’t lose functionality.

I have heard people say that they notice a change for the worse when they stop their physiotherapy, exercise or stretching for example. Or they stop an activity that has contributed to keeping their mental health in a good place.

In short, a rehabilitation plan is about developing new life habits that are about looking after all aspects of yourself.

Finally, share your plan with the medical and healthcare professionals responsible for your care. Particularly for those items which are medically related (medication dosages, etc.).

This picture shows the 10 principles of a rehabilitation plan. It's holistic. It focuses on what matters to you. It involves those close to you. It specifies any specialist expertise you need and who can provide that. It's goal oriented. It can be adapted. It contains info on what to do when you experience a setback, a relapse or fluctuation or progression of symptoms. It contains info on what to do in a medical emergency. It contains info on what to do when you are doing really well too. And it is for life. There is a little boy in the corner of the pic who is saying, "My mummy's plan is helping her play with me again.'

Come back next week when I focus on how you can create a rehabilitation plan.

What’s it like for you?

What principles above do you think are particularly important? And is there anything you would add to the list above what makes a good rehabilitation plan? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to design a personalised non-medical rehabilitation plan for you or a loved one, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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