• This Is Why

    The Power of Perspective

    Schooled by a patient.

    Listen to 'This Is Why'

    When I was in school to become a physical therapist (PT), I did a clinical rotation at a local hospital. The physical therapy staff there rotated weekly among different areas. Some days the PTs evaluated and treated patients in the intensive care unit. Other days they worked in the short-term rehabilitation center or the outpatient therapy clinic.

    During my rotation, a patient on my caseload was learning to walk again after sustaining 2 broken ankles. This gentleman was a contractor who worked in heavy construction. He'd fallen from a ladder and broke an ankle. But he hadn't realized the ankle was broken, and resumed climbing. When he put pressure on his broken ankle, he fell again and fractured the other one.

    Needless to say, he had experienced a devastating set of injuries. He underwent surgery on both ankles to stabilize the fractures, spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital's acute care wing, then was transferred to the rehabilitation unit. He of course was unable to work during this period, or to enjoy his normal recreational activities.

    I was excited to work with him and see his progress as he moved from being bedbound, to learning to navigate a wheelchair, to, finally, being able to walk with assistance.

    One afternoon, he and I were working on gait training. He had just started weight bearing and using a standard walker. The going was slow. Every step was painful for him. He was having a difficult time maneuvering the device and taking his steps, and he was frustrated.

    As he haltingly proceeded down the hospital's halls, an announcement came over the public address system. A code blue had been called for a patient in a certain room number. Multiple times, those words-code blue-were repeated.

    My patient suddenly stopped in his tracks and silently stood there.

    Concerned, I asked, "Are you okay?"

    "Yes," he replied. "But, does a code blue mean something bad is happening?"

    I confirmed its seriousness. "Code blue means a patient in this hospital is in cardiac arrest and is in need of emergency assistance," I explained. "Hopefully the doctors, nurses, and other staff can respond quickly and successfully, because that person's life is in the balance."

    After taking in my words, my patient stood silently for a few seconds, balancing his weight on the walker. He then bowed his head. His lips moved slightly as he softly prayed for the life of his fellow patient-a complete stranger who was in dire need of life-saving intervention. He prayed, too, for the members of the medical team, that they might make the right decisions to save the code blue patient's life.

    My patient then lifted his head, and with his right hand made the sign of the cross.

    "All right," he signaled. "Let's go." Engaging his 2 broken ankles back into action, he propelled the walker forward with what struck me as increased resolve.

    It was at that moment that I knew I'd made the right career choice. This man was in an unenviable position. He was at a difficult point in his life. Yet he had put his problems aside to focus on and pray for another individual.

    It's our job as PTs to do everything we can to empower our patients and clients physically and help them see that their hard work will pay off. But when we also recognize the difficulties that others face and respond with compassion, it both ennobles us and makes our own obstacles seem that much more manageable.

    That's what this gentleman, and other patients who've similarly inspired me over the years, have driven home to me. I feel honored to serve them, and I do my best to live their lessons of caring and perspective.

    Author - This Is Why

    Brett Sears, PT, Cert MDT, is an outpatient therapist in Albany, New York. He also serves as the physical therapy expert at About.com www.physicaltherapy.about.com).  

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