Falling Into Grace, Part 2
Rehab, Rebuilding Lives: As an acute medicine doctor, I realize that I haven’t had a clue as to what went on at a rehabilitation center. If you had asked me before to describe the role of physiatry, I would’ve been at a loss to do so. Rehabilitation medicine is truly an example of some professionals’ dedication and devotion to helping others reclaim their lives. It is a noble and, I believe, a satisfying, profession. As an acute care physician, I focused on dealing with short-term episodes of care, leaving the patient to manage most things on their own. However, when illnesses are devastating to one’s functioning, that doesn’t suffice. When I entered the hospital, I was unable to do virtually anything. Eating, moving, bodily functions were all things that had to be cared for by other people. I had to be re-taught how to do most things including the simple things that most of us take for granted. The incredible skills of the rehabilitation specialists are what has carried me through. Their kindness, devotion, encouragement and perseverance are an expression of one human being’s love and devotion for others. It requires skill, great patience, optimism and deep caring.
The Invisible People: As skilled as the neurosurgeon and rehabilitation professionals were, the unseen, anonymous nurses aides and technicians were also essential to my recovery. In this facility, many of them are people who grew up in poverty and/or were refugees from other countries who were working to become a part of the national economy. They often do the dirty, unglamorous job of taking care of the basic necessities of people. I’ve met people who grew-up poor in the United States, boat people from Vietnam, people who immigrated from the Philippines, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia – all of them have a similar story. They wanted to start up the economic ladder from very modest positions, and, almost all of them are working full-time jobs and going to school at night, or on weekends, to better themselves and create more opportunity. Several of them have been on truly heroic journeys. One I recall in particular is a nurse who was born in Vietnam and whose family escaped by setting out to sea in a small open boat, his family trusting that they would find some form of rescue. They were fortunate in finding a barge that picked them up and took them to an America military ship. They were taken first to the Philippines and then to Guam where they lived in a refugee camp for some number of months. They were then transferred to Arkansas and eventually found a placement in St. Louis. The young person then did odd jobs and construction to help earn money for the family. Finally, he managed to attend nursing school part time and eventually get his nursing degree and began to work. His story is just one of many that are similar. Many of them work on the margin with families to support and kids to take care of. I call them invisible people, because most of us hardly register that they are there, but I will tell you that the hospital wouldn’t operate without them.
This is a story that has a long way to go, but I will forever be grateful to the people, professionals, family and friends who have supported me through this odyssey.