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Life still happens: ASAB Physical Therapy and Acupuncture operating during a pandemic

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Master Sgt. David Garcia, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy technician, left, and Maj. Christine Broszko, 386th EMDG family medicine physician, right, pose for a portrait in the physical therapy office at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, July 15, 2020. Garcia and Broszko, as well as the rest of the 386th EMDG, are working to bring physical therapy and acupuncture treatments back to ASAB, while adhering to COVID postures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum)

ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait --

The mission is always front and foremost in most military members' minds while on any deployment. 

It’s where Airmen put training and knowledge from their home station into practice in a different environment, coupled with the opportunity to better yourself through fitness. 

Often, mission focus and bettering oneself take over to the point that taking care of oneself falls by the wayside. 

Luckily, when injuries happen to impair Airmen from accomplishing their mission medical professionals like Maj. Christine Broszko, 386th Expeditionary Medical Group family medicine physician, and Master Sgt. David Garcia, 386th EMDG physical therapy technician, are available when necessary to take care of the warfighter, even in a COVID-19 climate. 

Before the pandemic, physical therapy and the complementary and alternative medicine clinics worked hand-in-hand, seeing over 200 ailing military members, including sister service members and joint coalition partners from across the area of responsibility. 

“Patients come in with acute pain, and we assess them to see how best to help,” said Broszko. “We have a few different ways we could help on the spot, like osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), which is using a type of muscle energy to help spasms, ear acupuncture, or dry needling.”

But when the pandemic hit, the units were forced into new circumstances, which included suspending operations. 

“COVID-19 hit and we started looking at exposure risks to certain types of patients, and routine patient care was at the low end of the totem pole,” said Garcia. “Anything non-critical to we knocked out to lessen the risk and decided not to bring into the medical facility, Even the outreach was nixed due to the traveling to our other locations, Camp Bhuering, Cargo City, and Al Jaber Air Base, limiting travel and exposure risk from base-to-base.”

Now, months into the pandemic and the mission always moving forward, the clinic is slowly moving back to normal ops, based on COVID-19 posture levels. 

“People need to get seen, even though COVID is happening, life still happens,” said Broszko. “People still get hurt, still need to do their jobs, and physical injuries can impair that. We’re trying to care for members who are most in need of it; those members having acute problems affecting their ability to do their jobs.”

The routine EMDG clinic, acupuncture clinic, and physical therapy work have been working together to do what is best for their respective patients and the mission, including now opening physical therapy and acupuncture facilities once a week by provider referral.

“It is such a small family here and that enables great communications within the medical group,” said Broszko. “Physical therapy works with patients, and if I can contribute, I’ll help. If there is something I’m not getting results with, they’ll step in. We strive for good communication with the patient as well. We want to help patients know what they can do to help get better.” 

Both clinics see trends in the types of injuries sustained by patients through working together.

This increase in injuries is why the interoperability of the two units is important, sharing the same goal of healing patients and returning them to their mission.

“We strive to get people back to duty,” said Broszko. “If your shoulder hurts so badly that you can’t carry your M4, you aren’t going to be helpful. We can help people get back to duty as quickly as possible, as well as helping them mentally and emotionally by getting them back to the activities they enjoy. We do our best to help them know that they can get through their injuries.”

Amid the pandemic, both units help patients the best they can and strive to return to normal ops as quickly as the posture allows. 

“The posture of COVID is going to determine how much we can open up that faucet again, rather than just staying steady,” said Garcia. “Patients potentially having issues at work are going to be our main focus and as that faucet opens up a bit more we can start to address other patients who can perform their job but not as well.” 

Between all the patients, across the entire AOR, these two units share the same goal of helping service members feel themselves again and return to their mission, pandemic or not.

Airmen will need to be referred by a provider, who determines candidacy, and from there, an appointment can be made with the appropriate service.