I Turned Away a Patient and Sadly Regretted It Later


Back in 2001, a middle-aged couple in their 40’s came into my practice. The wife was pushing a wheelchair with her husband sitting in it.

He was obese and sickly looking.

He was having a lot of back pain, knee pain, and neck pain. He could get out of his chair and stand on his own and walk with a slow wide-based stance. But he had pain with just standing.

He wanted my help.

He wanted to be able to walk without pain. He even mentioned wanting to lose weight and golf with his son.

I hate to admit it but I thought to myself, “There’s no way.”

I was very busy running my practice and seeing a ton of patients. My first practice failed so doing better now felt so great. I was going a mile a minute, treating, training and expanding. So busy…but it felt great.

He had an HMO insurance plan that hardly paid.

I didn’t think he could realistically meet the goals he described (I actually thought it was impossible).

But I did my professional duty and completed the exam knowing fully well that his “Rehab Potential” was poor. Multiple diagnosis, multiple medications, high blood pressure, diabetes, obese, and unrealistic expectations…just not a good candidate to be a patient (according to my textbook definition of “Rehab Potential”).

Because I was so busy, and I could pick and choose the kind of patient I wanted, I proceeded to tell him that his goals were “unrealistic.” And that even enrolling him as a patient was questionable due to his poor rehab potential status.

I hated saying this to him but I felt like it was the only thing I could do. Furthermore, I kinda hoped he would choose to go elsewhere.

I mean what would I do with him?

What treatments could I do with him??

Could he even do any exercises???

I felt bad.

But what could I do?

So, I moved on…

…and buried the memory.

(Jump to May of 2012, 11 years later)

I saw a video of a man named Arthur. You may have seen it.

A 47 y/o veteran who had multiple injuries as a paratrooper in the Gulf War.

Too many jumps took it’s toll on his back and knees.

He gained a lot of weight.

For 15 years doctors told him he would never walk again unassisted.

He needed crutches, walkers and forearm crutches to move.

He accepted this as fact.

He had given up…

But then this happened…

Here’s the video about Arthur. It changed what I do as a therapist.

After watching this video, the old memory of me turning away that patient long ago resurfaced.

I immediately had feelings of deep regret…

I vowed to never be that kind of therapist ever again.

To never lose hope in someone.

To never give up on anyone.

The story of Arthur is a true story. He’s a math teacher and is still teaching. One of his students is the son of a good friend of mine Jennifer Angeles, PT at KTStherapy.com in Maryland.

This feeling of past regret and the inspirational story of Arthur is one of the main reasons why I decided to do things differently as a therapist.

Soon after, I began the journey of creating the MultiFunctional Movements (MFM) class with the mission of helping other therapists take better command of movement to change the lives of people of all ages and levels.

There’s a unique power in Yoga and Martial Arts that most don’t know about. It helps me change the lives of people in all walks of life everyday.

We have a unique opportunity as therapists to help people move and rediscover the very best of themselves.

To help those who need it most. To help bring the “life” back into people lives.

I hope you will join me in this mission of making therapy the best profession on earth.

About the author 

James Ko

James Ko is the lead instructor and founder of IndeFree. He's a physical therapist of over 20 years and have owned 7 private practices and is launching a national chain. He's worked with some of the world's most celebrated athletes, actresses, and X-Game competitors. More importantly, he knows what it's like to fail and succeed. He enjoys reading James Patterson and Nicolas Sparks, and likes to golf, play the guitar and practice martial arts. He loves playing with my Mac and Cozy most of all!

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