COVID-19: Hidden Dangers
Paul is continuing his physical therapy by doing exercises in the pool.

Paul is continuing his physical therapy by doing exercises in the pool.


High-level therapies address various ailments triggered by coronavirus.

Paul Sjoman enjoyed a lengthy and noteworthy career as a civilian trainer for the US Army. As part of his job, Paul wrote training manuals for just about every military function, from equipment maintenance to interrogation techniques.  

“I designed the training but didn’t teach it,” shares Paul, 77. “I worked at Fort Devens in Massachusetts for 25 years. When they closed that base, I went to work for the University of Massachusetts on a government contract. I was an adult educator.”

Now retired, Paul recalls how he got his job as an Army trainer.

“Over the years, it just morphed from other positions I held,” he reveals. “I initially went to work for the Army as a civilian educator and employment counselor. As time went on, I managed to get promoted to different jobs and ended up in education and training.”

This year, Paul experienced a setback with his health. He contracted COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. As a complication, he developed pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, and was hospitalized.

“I spent a couple of weeks in isolation at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital,” Paul details. “After I was discharged, I suffered a fall.”

Paul says he doesn’t remember anything about the falling incident, which occurred while he was using a rolling walker and caused trauma to his face and head.

“My mind just went blank,” Paul describes. “I don’t remember hitting the floor. I don’t remember going to the hospital by ambulance, either. I didn’t try to stop myself or anything. I don’t know if I had a seizure or if something else caused me to fall.

“When I fell, I landed on my face and broke my upper jaw. I ended up back in the hospital, where they fixed me up. After that, I went to Encompass Health.”  

With his combination of health issues, Paul required rehabilitation and medical treatment. He chose Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Treasure Coast in Vero Beach for his care. Encompass Health is the only acute rehabilitation hospital in Vero Beach. As a rehab hospital, Encompass Health offers a higher level of care than a skilled nursing facility.

“I experienced several problems due to COVID-19,” Paul discloses. “My hearing decreased by 25 percent. My memory has always been bad, but ever since I had COVID it’s been even worse; I don’t remember much of anything. The infection affected my stamina as well as other little things. My goal when I went to Encompass Health was to become more independent and mobile, and with their help, I reached that goal.”

Cytokine Storm

Dawn Bucaj, RN, BSN, the business development director at Encompass Health, says it’s not unusual for patients with COVID to suffer the way Paul did.

“The coronavirus not only attacks the lungs, but also causes small cell-signaling proteins called cytokines to be released by the immune system,” Dawn reports. “The cytokines cause a severe inflammatory response throughout the body. And because of this cytokine storm, many critically ill COVID-19 patients end up with physical, cognitive and behavioral deficits.

“Physically, a critical illness such as COVID-19 can leave patients weak. Cognitively, they may have problems with memory, attention, concentration and inability to perform activities of daily living due to mental fatigue. Behavioral issues that may result from a critical illness or long-term hospitalization can include depression, irritability and apathy.”

Patients facing issues such as these can benefit from the intensive therapy and round-the-clock registered nursing care that can be provided only by an acute inpatient rehabilitation hospital such as Encompass Health. 

“Patients who are recovering from COVID-19 need rehabilitation,” Dawn maintains. “Encompass Health has implemented protocols consistent with CDC guidelines, and we assess situations daily. It is very important for patients and family members to voice their choice and ask for a rehab hospital. 

“Our liaisons are available seven days a week to evaluate patients to determine who can benefit from treatment at an acute rehab hospital, where their medical needs will be met and their physical, cognitive and behavioral issues will be addressed. Our goal is to have patients return home safely to their families.”

Encompass Health provides COVID-19 patients with the advanced treatments they need to return to independence. These include daily physician visits; physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapy; and 24-hour care by registered nurses certified in rehabilitation.

“I was seen every day by two doctors,” Paul recalls. “One came every morning. That’s when he did his rounds. I received physical, occupational and speech therapy while I was at Encompass Health. The speech therapist went over a bunch of things for my speech. She also worked to improve my memory.”

Most Valuable Players

Following his discharge from Encompass Health, Paul received outpatient physical therapy to continue the progress achieved while he was an inpatient. 

“The physical therapist got me back into the pool with an assistant,” Paul reports. “The water therapy has helped me a lot so I’m still doing it. I’d say I’m about 60 to 70 percent back to where I was before I got COVID-19 and fell. I still have a long way to go.”

Paul credits the staff at Encompass Health with getting him on the right track to recovery. He lauds them for their efforts to improve his mobility and independence.

“My overall experience at Encompass Health was excellent,” he enthuses. “There’s no question I would go back again if I had to. The staff is also very good and quite accommodating. The people who work in physical and occupational therapy are the stars of the entire game.” 

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photo by Jordan Pysz. mkb
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