Reflections On Being An Angel

Reflections On Being An Angel

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



I did not expect my second blog to head off in this direction.  Recent news events have deterred me from my clinical course.  But stick with me as I provide a behind the scenes glimpse into the community of our clinic.  This is a story of marathon runners, of injury and of inspiration.

As an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist, it is often my job to motivate and to educate.  It is my goal to give those with an injury, illness or disability the support and knowledge they need to achieve their best recovery possible.  The relationships that we develop with our clients may seem pretty cut and dried.  We are the professionals offering a service; our clients receive the service; and insurance pays for the service (if we are lucky).

The amazing thing about my job, though, is that I don’t believe this therapeutic relationship to be a one-way street.  Although the time we spend with our clients may be brief, we come into their lives in a time of pain, uncertainty and need.    We may not become BFFs, go out to happy hour, or spend the day shopping (although these things have happened!), but for a short while, we share life events, concerns and dreams with those who we are treating.  We can get to know each other well in our brief time together, and we, as therapists, are more inspired by and amazed with the people we are helping than they may ever know.

With the Boston Marathon bombings in the news yesterday, the clients and staff in the clinic huddled around a laptop computer in our gym to stay caught up with the latest information.  The sense of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness and a myriad of other emotions was mitigated by the sense of togetherness and support as we shared this tragic moment in time.  All of the staff in the clinic have at one time or another participated in a sponsored walk or run.  We cringed when we imagined how the runners felt when the moment of joy and elation of crossing the finish line turned to such tragedy and mayhem.

And then I started to think back to how I, a non-athlete, became inspired to become a (slow) runner by three people who came in to my life about 3 years ago. These are the stories of two of the three, clients with whom I worked.

One was a beautiful young lady who, while qualifying to run the Boston Marathon, tripped after crossing the finish line and severely broke two fingers.  Two surgeries and multiple sessions of therapy later, she has a fully functional hand.  During our sessions together, we shared life dreams.  In addition to qualifying for Boston, this intelligent, young lady wanted to find a nice guy, get married, and have children – but she was quite discouraged with her prospects.  She has since visited the clinic several times to say thank you, not only for the therapy, but for encouraging her to hold on to the hope that the right guy was out there for her.  Her last visit to the clinic was several months ago – when she brought in her bouncing baby boy for a visit!

Another client was a woman who ran “crazy races”, an ultra-marathoner who pushed herself to her limits physically.  She had a severely fractured wrist from a fall and also required multiple surgeries and extensive therapy for her return to work as a massage therapist.

Both these women are physically fit and fast runners.  And yet, there is no ego.  Three years ago they encouraged me, a non-runner, to pick up my tennis shoes and go for a jog.  They cheered me on as I slowly walked and jogged my way through my first miles.  As we experienced yesterday with the publicity of the aftermath of the Boston tragedy, runners have a strong sense of community.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Boston Qualifier, or, if like me, you cross the finish line at the back of the pack.  Runners are a generous, supportive and caring group of people.  I was proud yesterday to be a part of that community.  I wore a running shirt today in support of Boston.  And I thank my lucky stars that these two women came into my life, shared their hopes and their dreams with me, and inspired me to reach for more.  I don’t think I’ve told them just how influential they have been in my life, and I’m not sure they would believe me if I did.  So I have detoured off course to share how powerful the therapeutic relationship can be, not just to the one receiving therapy, but to the person providing therapy as well.  So I want to take this moment to officially send thanks out to my many patients over the years who have enriched my life.

With gratitude, Marji