Expertly speaking, Karen Baber, RN, understands injury and has an amazing grasp of the inner workings of patient-provider relationships.
Through 46 years, Baber has served a variety of medical-related causes, including two-plus decades as an emergency room nurse, a nurse practitioner, a department chair of a college nursing program and today as an elementary school nurse, a job that keeps her motivated in retirement.
Baber is bright, she is gifted and knows right from wrong and good from bad.
Christen Behm, OTR, L, CLT, is good. Truth is, Behm, a four-year member of the Rock Valley Physical Therapy family, is tremendous.
Baber, the expert and in this case the patient — will tell you as much.
Baber and Behm, first crossed paths in the summer 2020. Struggling with pain and use of her left hand, Baber believed she had a tendon issue with the metacarpal joint. While seeking an steroid injection to calm the issue, she OK’d an X-ray. The picture was not pretty. I revealed Baber had an arthritic issue so bad it had dislocated the joint on her thumb.
“I was a nurse practitioner, and so I was sure of this,’’ Baber said, explaining what she believed was the issue. “ After going to a walk-in clinic to get a steroid injection — which I knew would be the solution — they instead took an X-ray which revealed an arthritic problem so bad, it had dislocated the joint.’’
Next was some of the best medical advice Baber has ever been issued.
“I received an injection and instructions to go to therapy,’’ said Baber, who loves to sew and ride her bike when time allows. “That is when I first met Christen. We worked together for several weeks. The pain was limiting. It was difficult for me to function. It was impossible for me to sew and change gears on my bike with my left hand. Christen could really tell I was not making any progress and she had been honest with me about possible outcomes. When Christen and I determined that therapy was not working, she sent me back to see (ORA’s) Dr. (Justin) Munns.’’
On November 17, 2020, Baber had surgery on her left hand to remove all the damage the arthritis had done and hopefully give her a functioning hand.
“I saw Karen for a month when she was first diagnosed and I treated her conservatively, however she had significant osteoarthritis and so much pain, I suggested she seek further guidance from her orthopedist,’’ Behm, who is based at Rock Valley Physical Therapy’s Silvis, Illinois, clinic. “ Her life, body and independence were suffering. She came back to me after surgery and we started our post-operative journey together. I must say she was an outstanding patient.’’
Baber says two weeks after surgery her true road to recovery began. She was in Behm’s hands.
“Christen and I had a standing date twice a week for the next several months,’’ Baber said. “She was encouraging, kept me progressing, slowed me down when she thought I should slow down and let healing take place. She knows her stuff. Offering me explanations and instructions helped me a lot. She had warned me that this was a tough surgery — and that I may at one point — wonder if it was worth it. Well, she was so right about that — and again — helped me move past that.’’
Forever grateful to Dr. Munns, Baber says having Behm — a gifted and skilled OT — working tirelessly to get her hand back functioning at full strength — was as important as her surgery.
“I can say that Dr. Munns did the surgery, but the work Christen did was the healing part,’’ Baber explained. “She “fixed’’ it. I have always had the utmost respect for physical and occupational therapists. They take time with you and listen. They are knowledgeable on how anatomically the human body functions.
“Because the therapy sessions were usually 30-40 minutes at a time, we had time to chat about life and things,’’ Baber added. “ She listened, she shared, she was human, and so very understanding. I have the greatest respect for her. Because of the work with her, I have been able to return to do the things I love, like sewing/quilting, riding my bike and gardening.’’
Behm said Baber’s knowledge and understanding that the goal was reachable, was paramount to her rehabilitation success.
“Karen was so pleasant and kind,’’ Behm said of Baber. “I really enjoyed every minute treating her through the emotional/trying times and the funny times. I believe her communication, honesty, questions with her progress helped us to tailor her treatment to her and she flourished.
“Initially it was pain and finding the right custom splint for her pre-and post-operative,’’ added Behm. “Also, post-operative, there is a period of time with this diagnosis that can be kind of depressing and mentally challenging to continue on to the light at the end of the tunnel. We adapted some activities in order to return to her hobbies. As she completed her exercises and time was allowed she was able slowly return to normal activities without having pain.’’
Behm, a former college soccer player who did her post-graduate work at St. Ambrose University, says bettering lives and establishing relationships are two things that make her job special.
“I really enjoy helping people return to independence and live their life to the fullest,’’ Behm said. “I enjoy this profession as it allows creativity to solve problems with people in an individual manner and also allows me to really get to know people as we all come from different walks of life. It was such an honor that Karen trusted me with her recovery. I am blessed to be a part of the Rock Valley team and humbled I can make a difference in people’s lives.’’
And she did. Karen Baber, an expert, will confirm that.
By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller