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If It’s Physical, It’s Therapy December 12, 2010

This is the shirt that we physical therapy students wore back when I was an undergraduate. It was sort of meant to elicit snickers like, heh heh, physical, heh heh. Back in the Olivia Newton-John “let’s get physical” days. But I’ve been thinking about this shirt, and that saying, and my long-abandoned career that I only recently dusted off and removed from the mothballs.

I graduated with a physical therapy degree in 1982. When I had my first child in 1990, I turned to other things, mostly nonprofit work, then writing, then teaching writing. And even though I renewed my license every few years, I pretty much thought of it as something I had done once but never would again.

I went back to doing PT work this past April. It’s been tough – the learning curve of learning brand new skills as well as dredging up information I’d packed away in the deepest recesses of my brain has tested me like nothing else. It’s been a very hard road, but I have not wanted to give up because I have been hoping, that with time, it would get easier.

After six months, I think I can say that going to work is not the intense stress that it was during the first couple of months. I am more relaxed now, although with moments of anxiety that I don’t know enough, or can’t do it right. It’s beginning to feel smoother. I’m going to be attending a professional course in February that I am actually looking forward to.

But it occurred to me recently, like a bolt of lightning, that another (of many factors) reason that I stayed away from this profession for 18 years (!!) was that I felt unworthy of it, physically. If I was overweight and inactive, who was I to help or counsel others regarding their physical issues?

Maybe it’s no coincidence that even when I was practicing, decades ago, I most often worked with the most severely disabled or the very oldest (or youngest) people around. I helped people who needed to learn how to hold up their heads, or sit for 10 seconds at the side of a bed, or take ONE STEP. I remember feeling a sort of disdain for athletic trainers (and their patients) and thinking that that was a stupid use of professional skills and that athletes did not need or deserve any help, when there were so many people who couldn’t walk or stand up without help.

Ah, the arrogance of youth. But I also think there was something else going on. I was intimidated by athletes and athletic trainers. They made me feel lumpy and inadequate.

I realize now that for the first time in decades, I feel worthy of practicing as a physical therapist again, and as I am beefing up my brain-skills, the same is true for my physical skills. This week I was doing something called a POET evaluation – a post-offer employment test, which is something that employers are now requiring of some heavy duty physical jobs. These people are offered employment, but they are dependent on passing a set of physical tests to see that they can physically DO the jobs without getting injured. I have been trained to administer these tests using this ginormous machine and computer system. One of the tests involves lifting a crate up to a shelf with 10 to 60 pound weights. After every 10 lb crate is lifted, I have to add another 10 or 20 lbs to it. I also have to lift this 45-lb steel bar on and off the Big Machine and add attachments to it for various pushing and pulling tests.

On Friday, I noticed that my shoulders and upper back were aching like I’d done a serious workout. Then I remembered I’d done this POET test. It HAD been a serious workout! I do not think I could have easily done this 20 years ago.

This whole thing is such a big deal for me. I ran away from this profession for so many years because I never felt good enough, intellectually OR physically. But I’m learning now that maybe it’s not too late.

 

 
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