Defining Moment Vision Fulfilled A career that was meant to be. By Faith Goldman, PT | July 2015 Listen to 'Defining Moment' When I was a child, my brother, first cousins, and I were blessed to have our grandparents close to our homes and our hearts. Nanny's demeanor was as sweet as her cooking. Grandpa Lulu was a short, bald-headed gentleman whose eyes twinkled in a way that lit up our very souls. On Friday nights—the beginning of the Jewish Shabbat, or Sabbath—we gathered for a family dinner. One ritual was for each child to place a coin in a blue-and-white pushke—a charity box for people less fortunate than us. Grandpa Lulu then held a personal audience with each one of us—pinching our cheeks lovingly, taking our head in his hands, and blessing us. He was careful not to disturb my thick, heavy glasses. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" he asked. I wouldn't know until I was 17, but I was certain from an early age that my profession would be a giving one. My grandfather's belief in me, irrespective of the physical challenges I faced, was a gift that defined my life's direction. I was born premature on Halloween 1942 and began life in an incubator with 100% oxygen and strong lighting. My eyes darted back and forth—a condition called nystagmus—and the doctors weren't sure what I actually could see. When I was 6 months old, I began a 15-year relationship with Arthur Michael Yudkin, MD, of Yale University's ophthalmology faculty, who called me his "girl with the dancing eyes." It would be decades—the early 1970s—before medical science fully understood how much retinal damage the excessive administration of oxygen had done to the eyes of premature babies. The medical term for this is retrolental fibroplasia. It affected thousands of infants in the 1940s and '50s, including the singer Stevie Wonder. While I was not blinded by this treatment, my vision was significantly impaired. Would I ever write, or draw, or even be able to cross the street by myself? When I was 4, a big decision loomed—whether I would attend a school for children who were vision-impaired or would be mainstreamed into the public school system. My parents and Dr Yudkin met with members of the school board. Public school it would be. This conferred on me its own set of challenges, physically and psychologically. In retrospect, I believe the bullying and name-calling both toughened me and strengthened my resolve to help others with physical difficulties. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I began to focus on what I would do with my life. In the late 1950s, job options for women largely were limited to secretarial work, teaching, and nursing. There was only 1 vocational counselor at Danbury High School in Connecticut. But that counselor—I knew him simply as "Mr John"—simultaneously became my career guide, literal and figurative door opener, and angel. Given that he was a tall African American man with a great deal of hair, he certainly didn't look like my grandfather. (Even I could tell that!) But, like my grandfather and Dr Yudkin before him, he would be a defining person in my life. Mr. John arranged for me to receive testing at the Connecticut Department of Rehabilitation in Bridgeport. We traveled there together in a crowded bus on the first day, and I returned unaccompanied the following 2 days. Before the testing sessions, Mr John and I had discussed various professions—some of which seemed to hold potential for me, while others did not. He even had taken me to a local hospital to explore the options, knowing how much I wanted to help others. Those 3 days of tests—visual, written, and psychological—resulted in my narrowing my career choice to either social work or physical therapy. I frankly didn't know much about either profession. So, back to the hospital I went, where I volunteered to help out in the physical therapy department on Saturdays. It didn't take many Saturdays until I was hooked. I decided that I, too, wanted to be a physical therapist (PT). What I saw at that hospital was a group of caring individuals using their expertise and compassion to help restore function, and to bring hope, to people who had lost mobility. Mr John wasn't finished with me yet. We next investigated scholarships, found me a school, and convinced my parents that I could blossom away from home. Three colleges and 6 years later, I received my certificate in physical therapy from the DT Watson School of Physiatrics, an offsite campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Mary Elizabeth Kolb, then-president of APTA, was the director of our class of 20 women and 20 men. From 1966 to 1998, I practiced in a variety of settings in 3 states—my acute hearing and sense of touch effectively compensating for my suboptimal vision. But my career came to an abrupt halt when I spontaneously dislocated my right shoulder while walking with a patient and discovered, upon evaluation, that I had been born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a hereditary hypermobility disease. I guess my parents hadn't wanted to burden me with another challenging diagnosis. At any rate, I then decided to retire from the practice of physical therapy. But my knowledge and training from decades of clinical practice continued to be an invaluable aid. My background as a PT helped me assist my dad, a bilateral leg amputee. It helped me guide my parents on how best to care for their parents. Having witnessed my patients' highs and lows, I was better able to cope with my husband's untimely death at age 54. Thanks to my years as a PT, I knew better what to expect, and how to maximize my recovery, through 6 different surgeries to stabilize my "loosey-goosey" joints. And each surgery brought me into close contact with PTs, PT students, and physicians—whose understanding of Ehlers-Danlos I sought to deepen through my words and example. There'a a Yiddish word, bashert, that translates as "meant to be" or "destiny." The defining moments in our lives, in my view, are those that facilitate bashert. I had 3 such moments—when I was born the granddaughter of Grandpa Lulu, when I was placed in the capable hands of Dr Yudkin, and when Mr John took control of my career search. Every day, PTs around the world help their patients realize the amazing things that each of us can accomplish with hard work and a positive attitude. My mentors, in the same way, helped me show the world what a girl with dancing eyes and decreased vision can grow up to achieve, if she's given the right assistance. Faith Goldman, PT, lives in Torrance, California. In 2014 she received an Excellence in Literary Arts Award from that city's Cultural Arts Commission.