Occupational therapy: skills for the job of living

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing
It looks like any other medical office, with white walls and tables for patients to lie on, but the gadgets around the room are unusual. There is a short tree of clothespins on a counter next to a model of a hand with no skin. Another counter has a bin of hot, melted wax on it.

The occupational therapy office at Keesler Medical Center, headed by Capt. Laura Dossett, uses a variety of rehabilitative devices to help injured patients accomplish everyday tasks

"Dossett is passionate about the career field and it shows daily as she works with all kinds of different symptoms, injuries and surgeries," said Senior Airman Coe Rangel, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron. "She is new to the Air Force but not to occupational therapy, so we've had a pretty successful turnaround with patients."

As there are less than 20 OTs in the Air Force, Dossett's title is rare and may be misunderstood by those who are unfamiliar with this particular niche of therapy.

"Occupations refer to everyday tasks, the things we do on a regular basis," said Dossett. "Getting dressed is an occupation. So is brushing your teeth and everything you do at work. It's everything you do in a day."

Dossett helps patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, thumb and wrist pain, tennis elbow, sprains, strains and post-surgery restrictions. Most of her patients have ailments from repetitive use.

Treatment is described as a continuum, starting with handling pain and swelling. Once those symptoms are regressed, patients are assisted with range of motion, strengthening and functional usage, respectively. Not all ailments can be cured, however, said Dossett.

"Sometimes you can fix a problem," Dossett said. "Sometimes you just need to adapt."
The OT office has many gadgets to assist in adapting to occupational problems, or at least reducing pain, including custom splints, paraffin wax treatment, fluidotherapy, ice packs and heating packs.

For many reasons, occupational therapy is slightly different in the Air Force compared to the civilian world. The overall career field assists with a vast amount of daily troubles, but
Dossett mainly deals with elbow, wrist and hand injuries and ailments. Even with the narrowed scope, Dossett says she has more freedom with her patients in the Air Force.

"Freedom with patients is obstructed in the civilian world," said Dossett. "Here there isn't the pressure to spend time with certain patients and I can help those that need it most."