The healing nature of hydrotherapy
Mark Hobbs woke up one morning in February this year ready to go to his job in construction, when he started to feel numbness in his body and lack of mobility in his hands and legs. He went straight to the Queen Alexandra Hospital (QAH) in Portsmouth where he was admitted and diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. This syndrome is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your hands and feet are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralysing your whole body.
Mark’s condition worsened very quickly, he lost all mobility, and his throat was closing. He was then moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and put on a ventilator. Suzi Hobbs, Mark’s wife, remembers that time and how dark it was. “It was terrifying, but I knew it would be ok. We have stayed mentally strong all the way through. You need to be strong to get through it, and we are strong for each other. The whole team here at the hospital have always been so supportive and have kept going.”
Laura Papineau, a physiotherapist at Solent NHS Trust, has been working in the hydrotherapy department at QAH for the past 13 years. Laura said: “Mark was on a ventilator for seven months. As he starts to show signs of recovery – we are taking that opportunity to take him to the pool and to use the buoyancy of the water to allow him to access the movements there because the gravity on land is too strong. When he first started hydro in August, he was able to move his arms and legs out to the side and back in again, whereas on dry land he can’t access those movements yet.
"What this means is that we can start to get the muscles working again far sooner than we could have done if we weren’t using the hydrotherapy pool – it aids a speedier recovery of muscle function to allow people to get home more quickly.”
Since those first sessions, two months on, Mark is now able to walk in the pool and is continuing to get stronger at every session.
Claire Jeffries, Physiotherapy Manager and Clinical Specialist at Solent with the hydrotherapy team at QAH, said: “With patients like Mark, rehab is advanced with the use of hydrotherapy, and we are delighted to give patients like Mark the opportunity to benefit from this treatment.
“Working together with our colleagues from the critical care unit at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to enable ventilator patients to access hydrotherapy treatment is so beneficial for the patient. It helps us start the recovery work earlier, so patients can get better and back home quicker.”
Claire said that being able to treat patients in the hydrotherapy pool is a privilege and a reminder as to why she does this job. “To see patients like Mark progress is so rewarding. It’s a collaborative effort between the clinical team and the patient.”
Hydrotherapy is like gold dust
Claire loves her job and is a huge advocate for the amazing benefits hydrotherapy offers patients. She added: “I feel privileged that we can offer this sort of treatment. It is like gold dust – it’s a wonderful therapy to treat patients. When Mark comes down to us, it’s the highlight of his week, his face lights up. It’s also great for his mental health as you can see progress, leaving the patient with a positive experience, and motivation to move forward.”
Since starting hydrotherapy in August, Mark is still attending hydro twice a week and is now out of ITU and off all breathing assistance. Claire is delighted by his progress. She added: “Mark is at Portsmouth Hospitals neuro rehabilitation ward at QAH and having a full rehab team approach with hydro, occupational therapy and land-based physiotherapy, alongside his medical and nursing care needs.
“He is staying motivated and committed to his land-based rehab as he knows he has hydro as well which he still loves.”
Suzi visits Mark every day and has seen the transformation and positive impact hydrotherapy and the rehab team has had. She said: “Hydrotherapy is so positive and important – there is so much he can do in the pool now that he can’t do on land. It reminds Mark, both mentally and physically that if he can move in water, there is no reason he can’t do it on land. It’s a massive reminder he will be able to do these things again. Every week he is progressing and doing more in the pool. Just last week he managed to walk in the pool and walk backwards.
"We are in awe of all the staff. They’re amazing here (hydrotherapy physiotherapists), in rehab, and in critical care – they are a special breed and just wonderful people."
Mark added: “All the staff have been amazing. The first time I felt myself move in months was in the pool and it was so amazing. I look forward to taking my wife out when I recover. She has been my rock.
“You don’t know what lies ahead so just enjoy it.”
For now, Mark is optimistic, he can see how far he has come which gives him strength and he is looking very forward to the future with his family