Wilma Carlsen is helping rebuild lives shattered by injuries - including head trauma.
Carlsen is a nurse in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center's rehabilitation unit. She worries about the simple tasks in life: whether a patient can learn to use a fork, tie a shoelace, take a shower and get dressed."We are here to help them regain their dignity," Carlsen said. "We want them to gain control of their lives again. When they are able to do that, then they are able to go home."
Sometimes that task requires Carlsen to teach a patient new ways of coping with disabilities: learning to use a different hand or perhaps teeth to do what hands used to do.
"Some people have to learn to carry around notebooks because their memories are poor," Carlsen said. In the notebook, the patient jots down everything from a scheduled appointment to how he or she will get to that appointment.
It is also Carlsen's task to help a patient - and his or her family - cope with the fact that he or she is a different person.
"They have changed," she said. "They will get back whatever (ability) is possible, but they may not be the exact same person they were before."
That's particularly hard for some people to understand when a patient looks just like he or she used to.
"They (other people) really don't realize that there is a big change unless they are around (head injury victims) constantly," Carlsen said. "Friends see them at their best usually. Family members see the little things friends don't notice."
Carlsen describes her role during the weeks or months of a patient's rehabilitation care as that of a "partner . . . coach, devil's advocate and hugger." Patience is a particular virtue for a rehabilitation nurse, as the nurse helps patients repeat the same task over and over while urging them not to give up.
"We essentially have to become a part of their lives," she said. "This is where they live for weeks or months at a time, and you are sort of a guest in their home. It's a lot like home health because you are with them from morning to night."
The reward in Carlsen's job comes when a patient is wheeled out the door, headed for home.
"We hate to see them go, but that's what we're here for," she said.