Playing table tennis Rahul Ramu, 21, resembles any other boy his age. But look closer and you notice that Ramu, who is paralysed waist down, is seated in a wheelchair. According to occupational therapists at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre his condition has greatly improved since he was brought to the centre two months ago.
"He was bed ridden, ailing and weak. He could not move or turn. He had bed sores on his back. Angry and disillusioned, Ramu was unwilling to improve but today he is 'almost' on his feet and should be back to his college life in two weeks," said Randhir Lal Ranjan, his co-coordinator for occupational therapy. Life changed drastically for the B.Tech final year student three months ago when his Swift Desire car was hit by an SUV coming from the opposite direction. The accident left Ramu a paraplegic for life.
After a life-saving surgery in Mysore in Karnataka, Ramu was brought to ISIC in Delhi on a stretcher. Gradually, he was tutored in the art of sitting,
moving and balancing using balls, sticks and supporters. He is now slowly getting a grip of activities involving buttons, seeds, keyboards and bats and balls – a very essential component of occupational therapy.
"Every day is an improvement. I can sit on my own, can transfer myself from wheelchair to bed and from chair to car. I am trying to make my life normal and these therapies really help," said Ramu.
"When these patients come to us we assess them and pinpoint weaknesses. Next, we plug gaps by giving them tasks as per their ability and then beyond," said Chitra Kataria, head of physiotherapy at ISIC, where they charge between Rs 700- 1000 per day.
Himanshu Yadav, 31, who hurt his spine after being hit by a moving train five months ago, is a quadriplegic. "After an operation in Lucknow, I was brought to Delhi and since then, I've been working on my balancing skills," said Yadav, who was being trained in sitting and balancing techniques with the help of a ball. This is more painstaking than it sounds as these functions that were once learnt unconsciously now have to be relearnt through regular repetition.
"We train people gradually by initially raise them 20 degrees and then increase 10 counts every day or even more depending on their response," said Swati Mishra, an occupational therapist at ISIC.
"We train them in hand skills and sensory integration, which includes writing and buttoning, rolling a pin on an inclined space to improve shoulder strength, and pulling and pushing. We then move to more complex training to help the person achieve independent mobilisation. This is geared towards helping the person win back confidence in his abilities," said Dr Jasmine Anandabai, head of physiotherapy at Sir Gangaram Hospital.
At the Balabhai Nanavati hospital in Mumbai's western suburbs, occupational therapists use colourful bands, balls and stability trainers to help patients gain strength. "I call the power bands a gym in your pocket," says Ali Irani, head of the department of physiotherapy at the hospital.
While occupational therapists train people to get back their daily living skills, Zill Botadkar, a child counsellor in south Mumbai's Kemps Corner shut down her 10-year-old multi-disciplinary therapy centre to practise art therapy to help the injured and the depressed. "Using art, I focus on patients' emotional and mental well being, which is important for a healthy and quick recovery," she said.
Botadkar uses dance, drama, role play, music and visual arts as core tools to help children with special needs. She cites the case of a four-year-old who lost his fine motor skills and was confined to a wheel chair after he met with a car accident.
Botadkar used music and particularly wind chimes to achieve a breakthrough in the case. She tied a chime to the child's wheelchair. "In a few days, he started smiling each time it made a sound propelled by the movement," she recounts.