A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist

Meet Suzanne Trumbower

Physical TherapyPhysical therapist Suzanne Trumbower covers the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and general medicine floors at Children’s at Egleston. The therapists at the hospital are often the initial point of rehabilitation contact for our pediatric patients and their families. At home, she’s busy taking care of her two sons –Casey 4 and Grant 11 months. 

A pediatric physical therapist works with infants, children, teens and young adults who have injuries or illness that affect their physical abilities, helping them improve function and facilitate the transition for discharge home or to other Children’s rehabilitation programs.  Our physical therapists provide treatment for patients across many specialties including acute inpatient therapy, rehabilitation, sports medicine, orthopaedics and multidisciplinary clinics, such as brachial plexus, cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy.

5:30 a.m. – Suzanne wakes up and starts to get her two boys ready to go to school. The morning routine consists of getting the baby ready who is all smiles in the morning, and the 4 year old ready who’d rather sleep until noon.    It’s out the door by 7:15. 

7:30 a.m. – Suzanne arrives at Children’s at Egleston with her sons. She parks in the Clairmont garage and rides the Emory Shuttle to the boys’ school, The Clifton School.  The bus is their favorite part of the day.   After hugs and kisses, it is off to work.

8:00 a.m. – While sipping her coffee, Suzanne reviews the patient board with another physical therapist. Suzanne helps divide the patients among the team of six physical therapists working that day. They also see if there are any new patients and patients who will be discharged today. Suzanne typically sees eight to 10 patients a day. Patients can range in age from newborns to 21 years old.  That is one of the reasons she loves this job, all ages are represented.    But the best part about working at Children’s is the personal interactions Suzanne has with her coworkers, the patient and the families. 

9:05 a.m. – It’s off to the PICU to see a difficult case, a 9-year-old boy severely injured in an automobile accident. The child is currently on mechanical ventilation, so Suzanne’s role is small, making sure his legs remain flexible and his skin stays healthy while he is not moving.  She also talks to his physicians and other therapists (OT and speech therapy) about rehabilitation for the patient after he leaves the PICU. Suzanne’s role with the family however is big.  The family looks exhausted upon her arrival. “I always feel it is important to connect with parents, try and understand what they may be experiencing, coping with the current situation, being sensitive to the thoughts they may have about what is ahead,” Suzanne said.  She and the mother talk about how therapy will proceed once the physicians feels the patient is ready. Suzanne also tries and gauge how a parents if coping, which might mean contacting a chaplain or social worker to stop by and spend some time with this family. 

Physical Therapy9:30 a.m. – Suzanne receives a page to come see a patient who is waiting to go home, but needs physical therapy to teach her how to walk on crutches.  A 15-year-old patient broke her femur while playing football and has a long pink cast that covers her ankle knee and goes up to her thigh.  She is eager to get home and tries to get up without help…but it hurts.  Suzanne discusses pain medications with the nurse in an effort to help the patient move more comfortably. They review how the patient must walk without the foot on the ground.  The nurse and Suzanne instruct the parents how to assist their daughter. After a short walk and training on the stairs, the team  is done an hour later. 

10:30 a.m. – Suzanne gets a call from her supervisor.  One of the Children’s case managers is looking for a continuous passive movement (CPM) machine for a patient at home.  Suzanne starts the hunt to see where she can get this equipment which is more typically seen in adult facilities.  Success.  The case manager has the information. 

11:00 a.m. – Brian has been here his entire life, all 8 months of it.  He has toured the hospital starting in the NICU, the TICU and now 4 W, a general pediatric floor.  In therapy the team is working to build his motor skills, including rolling, sitting, standing, and tummy time.  Brian is connected to two external devices which make moving a bit of a juggling act.   But Brian ignores all this. He just wants to play, be held and get moving.  His grandmother and mother are both present supporting him and keeping him focused on toys while he “works out” his legs in standing.  Also with us is his speech-language pathologist, helping to encourage vocalizations during play. 

1 p.m. – After lunch, it is off to spend to spend some time growing professionally, increasing exposure to new areas in the cardiac unit.  Suzanne meets another senior clinician in the CICU and she reviews the case, they discuss the critical state this child is in who has recently undergone a heart transplant.  The goal is to get the patient out of bed to a bedside wheelchair after a period of prolonged bed rest. The patient is connected up to several life saving devices which will limit how far he can move. To achieve their goal, Suzanne must work with three to four staff members to monitor how the child is doing, to ensure all his lines are maintained, and to move his room around to accommodate his wheelchair.  After 45 minutes, the patient is smiling and sitting in his wheelchair.  His parents are by his side smiling as well.

2 p.m. – Suzanne and Samantha, a physical therapy student, work with Daniel in the rehabilitation gym. After a leg injury, Daniel must learn to stand and walk without bearing weight on his right leg. After hearing Daniel’s favorite sport is basketball, Suzanne suggests they incorporate basketball into Daniel’s physical therapy. Suzanne also plays games with Daniel to improve his range of motion and strengthen his muscles.

4:45 p.m. – After spending the rest of her afternoon seeing patients, Suzanne meets the physical therapy team at the patient board to recap the day. The team discusses the patients they treated and creates a plan for tomorrow. 

5 p.m. – Suzanne heads over to pick up her boys. “The boys always run to me with open arms. It’s a great way to end the day,” she said. There are lots of routines that must be done before Suzanne heads home. Her son Casey shows her the tower he built that day. They work as a team to take it apart and clean up. Suzanne then collects Grant’s belongings and discusses the day with the teachers and the new bruises he has from still learning how to walk. 

5:45 p.m. – Suzanne and her sons head for the bus and wave it down as it arrives outside the Clifton School. Known as the bus riders they wave goodbye to familiar faces.

“I am so lucky to have such a wonderful job, people caring for children and their families.  And I get to do it with such a wonderful group of coworkers. “