He started his working life as a construction worker. But mixing concrete, building driveways and walkways and hammering nails into walls were not what his hands desired. They wanted to teach broken hands how to regain their functions, reawaken them from trauma, make them whole again.
Carlos Martins did just that. He traded in the shovel and hammer for a certificate in hand therapy. The son of Portuguese immigrants, Martins, graduated from Touro College with a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy in 1996, and became a certified hand therapist in 2001.He was nominated into the Phi Theta Epsilon Honour Society and placed second in his class for clinical excellence. In addition to providing hand therapy he also creates custom made casts.
He opened his Occupational Therapy Center as part of Queensboro Physical Therapy at 114-20 Rockaway Boulevard, South Ozone Park, seven years ago. This allowed him to combine his services with that of two others; physical therapy and acupuncture, which the center also provides. And later when the need arose he opened a second branch at Little Neck the meet the needs there.
His aim is to get patients’ arms and hands functional within three months of them beginning therapy. That, however, depends on the nature of the injury and the patient’s tolerance for pain. He said, some patients heal faster than others, and again, it’s the nature of the injury and the extent of the surgery they had that depended on the healing. But it is a dedicated process. “Maintaining a regular regimen can only result in faster healing.”
At the Rockaway center 99 percent of the patients treated are immigrants. Many of them come from the surrounding areas; others too, come from Brooklyn and Long Island. His staff is bilingual. “When Spanish speaking patients come for treatment they feel comfortable because everyone who works her speak Spanish and English. Effective communication is important to patients. They want to know that their therapists understand them when they speak about their injury.”
The affable Martins, whose personality precedes him, that is, his voice could be heard long before he enters the therapy room, has treated patients from most every Caribbean island and other parts of the world. While there I’ve met Roosevelt from Haiti, he has a broken left thumb, Sue from China, she’s nursing a broken right arm, Shanta from Guyana, who broke her hand in a car accident, Diana from Trinidad, whose right arm got broken when the vault door at the bank she works accidentally closed on her. There are a few others whose names I don’t recall. They are from Belize, Ecuador, Colombia, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico. Barbados. Jamaica.
Martins, a father of two, became interested in hand therapy while still a construction worker. He and a friend were working at a premises owned by a hand therapist. “At the end of the week she made more money than us and we worked harder. I listened to her experiences and that added to my growing interest in the profession. I used to look on when she worked and I learned a lot from just observing. That’s when I decided that I wanted that profession.”
Although he holds a psychology degree, Martins, has shied away from that profession and opted instead to work with hands rather than delve into people’s minds. He has not regretted that decision. “I love my job. It’s not about making money it’s about making people well. I enjoy treating my patients and helping to make their hands better. It gives me a sense of satisfaction.”
His two assistants, Claudia and Jamellys, Colombian immigrants are also bi-lingual. They too are the reason why patients feel comfortable at the center. Their friendly and courteous approach builds trust. The atmosphere is as comfortable as if one was lounging in one’s own living room. The television mounted on the back wall distracts to patients from the pain others experience while their hands are being worked on.
And to add warmth to an already friendly ambiance, Martins sings most of the time. Sometimes while working he bursts song to the delight of patients. Many, like me have gotten used to his spirited personality and go with the flow. It’s what makes the difference in healing.
The center has not escaped the economic decline. On any given day he would treat more than 60 patients. The visitations have visibly dwindled. “It’s difficult for some patients to meet their $15 insurance copay,” he said. “I have seen a marked difference in the amount of patients coming into the center for therapy. If they have a choice of therapy and feeding their children, they would feed their children and forgo the therapy.” Still, new patients are referred to the center daily. “They need the therapy, it is necessary in the early stages of healing.”
Martins is optimistic. He is however, unsure of how the new Health Care Bill will impact the center; he will face that challenge when and if it arises. But for now work goes on and the healing of hands will continue.