Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why'
"Because I liked the movie Regarding Henry."
Until recently, that was my standard response whenever patients, colleagues,
or friends would ask me why I became a physical therapist (PT). Regarding
Henry starred Harrison Ford as a man who'd been shot and learned to walk
again with the help of a magical PT named Bradley. The movie did inspire me, but
when I started reflecting on the deeper reason I was motivated to earn my DPT in
2005 from Bellarmine University, I realized it was all about family.
I'd always been interested in health care because of my parents--my mother is
a nurse and my father a physician--but an incident involving my mother and
grandfather one afternoon during my high school years illustrated to me the
difference I could make in people's lives.
My Grandpa Danzl battled lung disease late in his life. I watched it change
him from a lively, jovial, quick-witted man who always was young at heart--he'd
playfully hand you a bare stick of butter if you didn't specify "Please pass the
butter dish"--to a wheezing old man who struggled to breathe.
Grandpa Danzl would shuffle along with his oxygen tank in tow. It seemed to
take him forever to move up the walk to our front porch. The first time I saw
him sit on the porch swing to catch his breath before heading inside, I realized
just how sick he really was. It depressed me.
But then, one afternoon, my mom was mowing the front yard. She paused to take
a break. Grandpa and I had been watching her, and all of our farm's comings and
goings, from the porch. Grandpa looked at my mom and said, wistfully, "I'd love
to be able to mow the grass." Without hesitation, she replied, "You can do
that." Grandpa looked skeptical and hesitant, but my mom went right to work,
figuring out how best to get him and his large oxygen canister onto the riding
mower. I've cherished since that day the image of my grandpa, who just moments
before had seemed so feeble and dispirited, sitting giddily on the mower with
the oxygen tank jerry-rigged, McGyver-like, to it.
That incident drove home the message that perseverance, creativity, and
compassion could change someone's entire world for the better. Where I'd seen an
obstacle, my mom had seen only possibilities, ideas, and solutions. She'd given
my grandpa the gift of an afternoon riding in the sun, mowing the grass, feeling
like a productive human being instead of a shadow of a man trapped by the
confines of an oxygen tank and tubing.
Several years later, my dad reinforced that message of service at a critical
time in my life. In the months after graduation from the PT program, my world
was swirling--board examination, first job, constant worries about whether I
really knew what I was doing. My dad had written a chapter that was published in
the 18th edition of the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, and my
parents gave me his honorary copy as a gift at the start of my career. In it, my
dad wrote, "Dream big. You have the talent and heart to help many patients." He
added, "There's no better profession than one in which you get to help
I took my dad's words to heart. Even on my worst and most self-doubting days,
I knew that all my studying and clinical work at school, the daily job pressures
I now endured, and the challenges I would face while building a career were
completely worth it. Because helping people was what it was all about.
I'm now pursuing a PhD in rehabilitation sciences while working as a PT at a
rehabilitation hospital. I hope one day to teach in a PT program and similarly
help confirm my students' career choice. I'll ask them why they wanted to become
a PT. If any of them say, "Because of Regarding Henry," I'll smile and
wonder, "Does your choice really regard a movie, or does it perhaps regard
lessons you learned at home?"
Megan Danzl, PT, DPT, is a PT at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.
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