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Jail, birdies and the joy of unusual cases


Physio Focus
Andrew O'Brien

‘In the morning, I have a boiling hot shower, then a freezing cold shower, then I put on me Arthur-ritis cream.’
The man telling me about his morning ritual was 90 in the shade, but looked as fit as a trout. It was at least the fourth time in ten minutes he’d given me the run down, complete with shivering and lathering motions as appropriate. He was as deaf as a post, so every rendition was being roared at full volume, but over the top of him I could still hear the other new grads laughing in the corridor. Welcome to the New South Wales Health Service!
As new graduate physiotherapists in Sydney, we entered a job-allocation programme, whereby all the hospitals in the state agreed to take on a certain number of new grads. I was lucky enough to be working in the Prince of Wales Hospital, just up the hill from Coogee Beach. Under the umbrella of the Prince of Wales came the old Prince Henry Hospital, a little further down the coast, with its own private beach. I spent a couple of months working in the outpatients department at Prince Henry, and it was there that I met the 90 year old with Arthur-ritis.
Somewhere between telling me about his Arthur-ritis cream for the fourth and fifth times, he explained his problem. ‘I play golf, see, and I’m having trouble with me putting’. As it turned out, he had been a very good amateur golfer and putting was his forte. Normally he lay on his stomach on the green, eye behind the line of the ball to assess the putt, but of late his neck was getting stiff and he was having difficulty extending his neck back far enough to get his head into the right position. Arthur-ritis, indeed! A few treatment sessions for him and a trip to the audiologist for me, and everything was back on course.
A mile up Anzac Parade from Prince Henry is Her Majesty’s Prison Long Bay, with a maximum security prison with over 1,000 inmates. Like all prisons, Long Bay has its own hospital, but occasionally inmates would have to be sent down for specialist assessment. Of the 18 new graduates who started at Prince of Wales, I was the only male so, on the odd occasion an inmate needed physiotherapy, it was me who got the job.
One morning the neurology team called; an inmate had suffered a stroke and needed to be assessed. As it turned out, the prison doctors doubted his symptoms and wanted an independent eye to see whether his left arm really had been paralysed by the ‘stroke’, as he claimed. So, having removed my belt and name tag lest they be stolen and used against me, I went to work.
‘Can you squeeze my hand? Lift your arm? Shrug your shoulders?’
‘Nah, mate’ came the reply every time, as he pulled exaggerated faces to prove how much effort was needed to get no response. Maybe he was telling the truth.
‘Could you slip your shirt off for me?’
I’m told the two-way mirror was sound proofed, but I’m pretty sure I heard the doctors laughing as our ‘stroke’ patient lifted both arms above his head to take his T-shirt off. Somehow I kept a sympathetic look on my face – to be honest I did feel pretty sorry for the bloke – and pretended to check one or two more things before calling the guard to let me out.
These two men lived in the same suburb, one of them had been there for 60-odd years and the other one was there for eight to ten depending on his behaviour. One was in extremely good shape for his age, and the other wasn’t quite as sick as he made out, but they both made a change from the usual stiff backs, dodgy knees and post-operative walks down the corridor that new grads get lumped with.
That’s what keeps physiotherapists going; it’s not all sporting teams, exercise and pilates classes. Sometimes it’s crims and Arthur-ritis cream.

> Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at