Last week, a patient told me I was his angel.
Being caught up in the normal busyness of everyday life, I haven’t had a chance to reflect on the meaning of his statement until now. Did I do anything special or miraculous to deserve the title? Nope. I just did my job – hopefully in a caring, compassionate and respectful manner. So why was this glorified designation bestowed upon me?
This intelligent, energetic man had his life unexpectedly turned upside down after waking one morning with red streaks heading up his arm. During a home project several days earlier, he had jabbed and cut his thumb with a screwdriver. Having been a pharmacist, this gentleman knew all the right things to do. But that didn’t stop the infection from coming. He’d just been to surgery to have the wound cleaned and then his surgeon referred him to me.
When he arrived, my patient told me that he was anxious; that his wound didn’t look good; he didn’t like the color; it was healing too slowly; it didn’t feel right. During our first session, I cleaned and redressed this gentleman’s wound, I reassured him that the wound looked healthy and not infected, I guided him in exercises to prevent stiffness, and I learned that he had a granddaughter graduating from 6th grade that afternoon.
When he returned for his second visit, this patient of mine brought his wife. The wife was excited to tell me that her husband had come home a different man after that first visit. Much of the worry about his injury was gone.
At his third visit, the gentleman was pleased to tell me that he felt 80% better than at his first visit. He also told me that he had sung my praises during a visit to his internist that morning. Although he was exuberant in his thanks, did I believe that I had done do anything angelic yet? Still, no. Just putting in a good day’s work.
All I did, in addition to providing wound care and range of motion exercises, was listen, give reassurance and hold out the hope that there would be a full recovery. Yet, I’m told more and more often by my patients that health care professionals are too busy to answer questions or to provide comfort. This isn’t surprising as reimbursement for medical services is being cut and caseloads are increasing.
Another common phrase we hear in the clinic – “Why didn’t anyone tell me these things before?” It is often left to the therapist to provide injury information and recovery education. With our health care system, physicians are just too busy. It is a good thing that we, as therapists, still have the time to develop a therapeutic relationship and be a safety net….as long as we are getting referrals. But where are the angels for those who aren’t referred due to lack of insurance or who have a high deductible; who have busy schedules and are unable to attend; or who have doctors who decide to wait, sometimes for a month or two or even longer, until a problem is large enough to warrant referral?
Our profession recently celebrated Hand Therapy Week. It was a good time to reflect on the qualities that we have that enable us to treat upper extremity injuries with skill. But we must never forget that it is the personal relationships that we develop with our clients that give us the ability to change lives.
Would my patient’s wounds have healed if he had never set foot in my clinic? Absolutely. But, it would have been a longer, more stressful, lonely journey for him. And I guarantee that he would not have enjoyed his granddaughter’s graduation as much as he did if, during the ceremony, he was as worried about his hand as he had been when he first arrived at our clinic.
So, I will try to remember, in spite of all the administrative stressors, why I became an occupational therapist in the first place. I will appreciate the hugs my patient gives me after every treatment session. And I will accept this man’s role as his angel with honor.
Best wishes, Marji