"Living life is a rehabilitation process; Rehabilitation is living life"
“Will I be able to walk again?” a scary question for anyone to have to ask or attempt to answer and yet it is one Wilfred Allen faces on a regular basis. Wilfred is a physiotherapist at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre and the 2016 guest speaker at CHED for Mandela Day organised by the CHED Transformation Events Committee.
Before starting his presentation Wilfred turned to the crowd and said, “After my talk you will realise that we’re not that different”, we referring to persons classified as ‘disabled’ and the ‘able-bodied’ CHED faculty present. Wilfred, however, does not use the term ‘disabled’ himself as from his experience ‘disabled’ is merely a term society has given to those with physical impairments.
He began his presentation by asking what is seemingly a simple question, “How will you know that you have had a fulfilling life, or a satisfactory life?” The unanimous answer from the crowd was happiness. He prods, ‘But why are we happy, what makes us happy?” After a few iterations he shared his view with the crowd: “Function, function, function, were we able to perform our daily activities”.
This philosophy encompasses Wilfred’s work which is outcomes-based and promotes functional independence. He helps people with a myriad of injuries to get back into their daily routines from ironing clothes, to a farmer picking up heavy bags of produce. Throughout his presentation Wilfred coached the crowd through the process of rehabilitation using the examples of stroke or spinal cord injury patients. The crowd was awed by the effort required to perform simple tasks many of us take for granted.
Although the subject matter was serious Wilfred managed to keep the atmosphere light and jovial. “Your pundus (buttocks) is your most important muscle ever” he joked as he demonstrated the sit to stand exercises that he performs with his patients. “If you didn’t activate your gluteus maximus (muscles in the buttocks) you would fall over.”
To close his presentation Wilfred brought it back home to UCT. He had helped rehabilitate one of CHED’s own Gadija Arend after she had suffered a stroke at the end of 2015 and as part of an on-site visit evaluated how easy or difficult it would be for her to perform her duties in a wheelchair. He commended UCT for the various facilities it had on offer but pointed out that there are still areas that need further considerations, for example, reception area desks that are too high, lifts that are too small and narrow thoroughfares.
The session was eye-opening and inspiring for all present who were in consensus that Wilfred should return for another session to the greater UCT community. In his words, “Living life is a rehabilitation process; rehabilitation is living life”. Don’t procrastinate, because you never know what could happen tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Rondine Carstens