Living with a spinal cord injury makes a person susceptible to secondary injuries and challenges—especially an active person like me. One of most common problems occurs in a place you may not expect: your skin. Why is skin such a big issue for people with spinal cord injuries? Well, because we spend a majority of our day in a wheelchair, the pressure on our skin can cause it to break down. This is called a pressure ulcer or wound.
I’ve been injured for 17 years, and can remember being shown pictures of pressure wounds. I also remember saying, “I will ALWAYS check my skin and take care of myself so that will NEVER happen to me.” Little did I know back then that you can take great care of yourself, check your skin regularly, and things still can happen. It happened to me this spring, and thankfully, the Wound Care Team at Magee was there to answer the call.
We always talk about treatment at Magee using a “team” concept, and many of the members of the teams have jobs that are well-known and easily understood, like doctors, nurses, or physical and occupational therapists. However, there are other members of the team whose work is done behind closed doors and curtains. They are the Wound Care Team, and that title barely offers a glimpse into the work they do.
Because many of our patients are immobile, the risk for pressure wounds is high. Many people arrive at Magee with pressure sores from their time in the hospital after their initial injury. But it’s not just a problem for people who are newly injured. We also see many patients, like myself, who are years out from their initial injury and being treated for pressure wounds. And just like an initial injury, nobody plans them, and they never come at a good time.
I sure didn’t plan my pressure wound. I acquired it this spring after a long plane flight and van ride. I noticed it right away while checking my skin when I arrived at my destination. I protected it as best as I could, and stayed off of it a little bit, too. I saw some very good progress, until about three weeks later, when the color and size of the area had changed significantly. Before I knew it, I was in the ER. And the next day, I was on the operating table.
Two days later, I was back at Magee on strict bed rest until it healed. Getting to Magee that Friday was the next best thing to going home. I knew I would receive the best care possible, from a very experienced team. But even I didn’t know how crucial the Wound Care team would be to my recovery.
First up, I had a visit from Magee’s registered dietician Evelyn Phillips. Nutrition plays a big role in wound healing. She talked to me about the right kind of foods to eat (a lot of protein), and prescribed some nutritional supplements that would help provide the things that my body needed to produce healthy tissue.
From there, I met with the nurses on the Wound Care Team. Julie Rece, Paul Buttner, Naoko Otsuji and Ericka Scruggs— this four person team does the work of 10 people. Each day, they make visits to current inpatients, while also seeing former patients in our Gaspar Clinic Outpatient Center. They examine wounds; take pictures and measurements; collaborate together to create a plan with the doctors, nurses and therapists; and work tirelessly to help people like me get through a very tough and challenging time.
But it’s not just the core Wound Care Team that ensures each and every patient has healthy skin. Every shift and floor of Magee also has designated Skin Champions. The Skin Champions are clinical staff who work together to spot potential problems, help patients recovering from skin issues, educate patients and families about pressure wound prevention, and collaborate with the wound care nurses. These Skin Champs include nurses, nursing assistants, therapists, doctors and aides who receive special training on skin protection.
Because I work at Magee, I am fortunate that I get to see magic and miracles happen on a daily basis. But this recent setback helped me better understand all of the work that goes in to helping our patients get better.
I am proud to be a part of Team Magee, and now have a much better understanding of the role that every member plays. Being in bed for five weeks while I recovered wasn’t fun, but it opened my eyes, enabling me to see people do extraordinary things for patients and family members. They do it every day, with a smile, and all with the same goal: to help improve the quality of life of everyone who comes through our doors.
While wound care may not be at the top of mind when you think of rehabilitation, I can tell you from experience that it is an incredibly important part of living a healthy and productive life. And thanks to Magee’s wound care team, I am now back to mine.
Want to keep your skin safe? Here are a few tips:
- Change position every two hours to relieve pressure
- Keep skin clean and dry
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day
If you have any questions or concerns, the team at Magee’s Gaspar Center can help. To make your appointment, call (215) 587-3394.
Originally appeared in Fall 2014 Can Do.