Reared in the Country, He Treats Victims of City Violence
One in a continuing series
Vincent Long grew up far removed from urban environment where he currently works, home schooled in a rural Pennsylvania town. It was a sports injury that propelled him to the unlikely place he is today: dealing with the aftermath of gun violence.
Long is an outpatient physical therapist at MossRehab who treats patients with spinal cord injuries. Most of them are gunshot victims, some of whom were involved in the reciprocal violence of street life.
Long spans the divide in background with a simple formula of candor and respect.
Respect and Trust
“When you treat patients with respect and you’re invested in them, they appreciate that,” he says. “You end up getting along with people you might never have encountered.”
“And I always try to be very honest and upfront and not try to sugarcoat things,” he says. “Being honest and forthcoming helps develop trust, and many things are possible when you have trust.”
The fraught question Long is inevitably asked by patients, for instance, is: Will I ever walk again? He’s witnessed so many unpredictable outcomes in the 10 years he’s been at MossRehab that there’s only one honest answer he can give: I don’t know.
“I’ve had patients playing one-on-one basketball in therapy with me and I thought they’d never walk again,” he says. “And I’ve had patients who had a really good chance who never got to that point.
“Maybe they can’t get transportation to therapy appointments, or they don’t have a social support network, or they live on the second floor and can’t get out of the house in their wheelchair.”
So Long emphasizes to his patients what aspects of their injury are in their favor that may determine whether they walk again – and what aspects are working against them. And sometimes he helps patients find a more achievable goal to motivate them and keep them optimistic.
“I had a patient who was having a difficult time coping with a spinal cord injury; his chance of walking again was very low,” Long recalls.
“I continued to talk to him about other ways to regain his independence and as we started developing more trust, he told me one big frustration involved Christmas. He was very proud of having found presents for his 2-year-old daughter and was frustrated that he’d have to help her open them sitting in his wheelchair rather than sitting next to her on the floor.
“So I worked with him in therapy to learn how to get off the chair and on the floor. He did it at Christmas. And it really changed his attitude,” he says.
Such moments are gratifying for Long, who started out wanting to be a sports therapist. He played baseball in college and had physical therapy for an elbow injury. “That spurred my interest in physical therapy, and I thought it would be fun to work with athletes.”
But once he got into sports medicine, it wasn’t as rewarding as he thought. Then he did a rotation on the spinal cord injury floor at MossRehab and found the fulfillment he’d been seeking.
It may not be the life he envisioned growing up in his rural hometown, far from the hustle of city life, but “it’s very rewarding to me.”
“The highlight of my career,” he says, “is helping people get back to a semblance of their life and to the independence they lost.”