Long ago, before complexities of health care became the templates, movement was the standard medicine. History narrates that early physicians used their hands, heat, and their knowledge of human movement to cure physical dysfunctions. Through the years, the health profession evolved and diversified into highly-specialized components and subcomponents. Nevertheless, principles of these ancient arts of healing had to be passed on for people of today to benefit from. Physical therapists, physiotherapists or PTs are some of the lucky heirs. Arts were thoroughly transformed into science highly influenced by western medicine. Therefore, it is through PTs that people can taste the standard medicine our ancestors used to benefit from, adjusted to suit the modern times.
Every 8th of September, PTs all over the globe celebrate World Physical Therapy Day. I took this time to reflect on the past years and ponder on what I have been doing on a professional level. Years have been great! Nothing can be more rewarding than witnessing a positive change in another person’s life. It is tough to be an agent of change, and to be a good one, I realized that PTs must assume different roles to excel in their field of practice. In my opinion, below are six roles that we unknowingly assume to be good and effective physical therapists.
Physical disability results in a great psychological tumult. Movements that used to be reflexive like reaching for a glass of water or standing from a chair become unsurmountable for a person who had a stroke or survived a car accident. Imagine the numbness you feel when your dentist anesthetizes a side of your jaw making you impossible to gargle water without spilling. Magnify that towards half of your whole body – that is a taste of what stroke feels like. PTs must be mentally and emotionally strong to be the patient’s shrink throughout the process. All the anxiety must be transformed to motivation. I remember one time I treated a patient with stroke and taught him how to sit again on his own. He did it well and it was his birthday then. He cried. I held my tears. I had to.
Aside from being familiar with the ancient origins of modern practice, a PT’s inner history buff must be translated into practice. Knowing a patient’s history of current illness, medical history, family medical history, occupational history, social history and personal history will paint a picture of a whole person in different facets. The uniqueness of this person before an injury would be our benchmark. We will try our best to help our patients assume their best possible self. A good PT will remember every small progress a patient makes. As historians or storytellers fond of beautiful tales, the rehabilitation process should make a pretty good story for the patient to tell when the life hurdle has been overcome.
A PT interacts with a patient for an hour or more, for weeks, months or years for some. Hopeful family members look up to their father or mother or child’s PT to facilitate the healing process smoothly. PTs must also be the strength of the family because a major illness of a family member affects most or everyone. Thus unknowingly, PTs become integrated into the patient’s family at least within the duration of care. This reminds me of a time when I was treating a Korean patient. I had to learn basic phrases in their language as he cannot speak or u
nderstand English. Before we parted ways, when he already started walking, he left me a note. He probably thought I was his grandchild. More than anything, I was amused and flattered at the same time.
Health care is a very challenging profession. Like nurses, PTs have to be in constant communication with doctors and other health professionals to deliver holistic care. We have to attend to our patients’ needs in a very compassionate manner. It is a different job altogether as we do not administer medicines, invasive procedures and do graveyard shifts, but we share the nurses’ sincere concern for their patient’s well-being.
As advocates of movement, exercise is the core of every physical therapy session. As ambassadors of fitness and wellness, a good PT facilitates a patient’s transition to a healthy lifestyle. Exercises specific to body areas warranting movement are carefully administered in well-thought-of dosages. As a patient recovers, PTs help the patient assume a healthier lifestyle to function well and to prevent recurrence of their injury.
Every kid loves the cool teacher – that unique one who can help you learn the most boring class in a fun way. If a teacher can be cool, he or she will forever be a positive memory to a student who acquired the love to learn. PTs are educators too. Extroversion is a helpful trait as this profession requires loads of human interaction. A good PT loves people. He or she channels all negativities into thoughts of hopes and potentials. A good PT ensures the family that whatever it is that they are facing is only temporary. He or she makes the healing process a fun and positive experience, something to look back
to once everything has been overcome.
Physios are agents of change, they say. Indeed having different roles every day, without them knowing, PTs CHANGE lives every single day. To whatever brought me here, thank you. I am proud and will always be. Happy World PT Day!