Robin Fridy, knew the procedure to remove her bile duct cancer was going to be difficult and invasive. The complex surgery involves removing not only the head of the pancreas, but the first part of the small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct. The 64-year-old underwent surgery on March 31 at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and spent nearly a month recovering before being discharged on April 27.
However, Robin’s time at home was short-lived. On May 3, she returned to Hershey Medical Center with an infection and blood collection at her incision. She underwent extensive antibiotic and surgical treatment for the infection, including the placement of a wound VAC, which uses a vacuum pump to decrease air pressure around a wound to assist in the healing process.
Six days later, after being told that she would need rehabilitation, Robin asked her friends and family where they thought she should continue her recovery. Her step-daughter, who works for a local primary care physician’s office, suggested Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital because of their stellar reputation in the area. Robin was admitted to Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital’s Transitional Care Unit (TCU) on May 9.
Upon admission, Robin was unable to sit at the side of her bed, even with assistance, for more than a few minutes, walk or complete personal care. She also had very little, if any, appetite. Robin’s rehabilitation goals were simple: to walk without a walker, take care of herself and her home, drive and go up and down her basement steps to do laundry. She also wanted to continue her hobbies of knitting, cross-stitch and puzzles. Additionally, Robin wanted to resume her significant involvement with the Red Lion Order of the Order of the Amaranth, a service organization which is part of the Mason’s, a fraternal organization. The Order’s primary charitable goal is supporting diabetes research, and Robin is expected to serve as the Pennsylvania Grand Royal Matron during 2023-24, and wanted to have the strength to continue her service.
Robin worked with her physical therapy team on strengthening exercises with resistance bands, leg kicks, and both marching and walking while holding on to a walker for increasingly longer distances. Robin said, “Initially, my legs were dead weight. I couldn’t lift them into the bed myself.” Within a few weeks of her arrival, Robin started to feel better physically, noting that she saw an increase in her tolerance for therapy.
Her occupational therapy team taught her to wash and dress independently. Robin said that Susan, her occupational therapist, and Mike, her physical therapy assistant, were great, constantly encouraging her and cheering her on. Her biggest achievement came when she walked the entire length of the unit’s hallway and back with a walker -- without stopping to take a rest.
Robin admits that initially she worried she wouldn’t be able to return home. However, after just over a month in Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital’s TCU, Robin was discharged with a plan for her ongoing recovery, including having a friend or family member with her at all times for the first few weeks to provide assistance and ensure her safety. She also began physical and occupational therapy at home.
The support of her friends and family, including her two step-daughters, step-grandchildren, sister and brother-in-law, kept her going during months of hospitalization and rehabilitation. Robin anticipates that she will be able to spend more and more time alone as she becomes increasingly independent. At discharge, Robin said, “I feel so good. I can’t wait to go home. I thank everyone on this floor. They have been fantastic.”