I’m a physio, but nobody taught me how to explain to a 55 year old man, that his back pain was possibly a return of his cancer, and that he may need surgery and chemotherapy. Nobody told me that the realisation in his eyes would stay with me.
Nobody taught me how to reason with a patient who was in so much pain, could only see suicide as a viable option to escape the pain, nobody taught me how to hold their hand and help them find another way.
Nobody taught me how to act when a patient verbally abused me and backed me into a corner, as a way of dealing with the anger and lack of sleep their pain had caused.
Nobody taught me how to explain to a 35 year old lady that I needed to send her to a neurologist, to diagnose MS, to help her accept that her symptoms were not what she wanted them to be.
Nobody taught me how to keep a straight face when a patient grabbed my bottom because he thought I was ‘fit’, when a patient farted ( loudly!) during a treatment session or when a patient requested ‘aqua puncture’.
Nobody taught me how to see patients for 11 hours, with little time for a break, and to do it all again the next day. Nobody taught me how to treat each patient with the respect, the time and the dignity they deserve. Nobody told me I often wouldn’t see my children at bedtimes, or miss events, because the working hours needed it, or because an extra patient in pain needed to be fitted in.
Nobody taught me how it would feel to see the relief on a mum’s face when her baby’s colic symptoms resolved, to see the anguish and pain melt from her eyes.
Nobody told me how much I would laugh with my patients, and how many patients would become true, dear friends.
Nobody taught me how much job satisfaction I would get, from making a difference, from helping people, and helping them to reduce pain, stress, anxiety or depression.
Nobody told me how hard it would be, on some days, to stay grounded, to stay neutral, to not judge or expect our patients to do more, be more, or know more. I try to meet people where they are at, right at that moment.
Being a physio is the best job in the world, but it has it’s challenges. It is so much more than giving a treatment for pain relief.
It is listening to every patient as if they were our only patient of the day, giving a bit of us and letting them in, holding space for them, not judging, not overwhelming, giving them the power. It is not about our ego, or us deciding where a patient should be, but trusting that they know, and that we can provide guidance and care. It is helping people find a way to get through pain, injury or trauma, but allowing them to be empowered.
It’s the little things I love. It’s the hug from a patient who feels like they’re getting their life back after an acute episode of back pain, it’s the shared stories of our children or our childhoods, it’s the laughter, the snatched moment of our day when you ‘click’ with someone. It’s the contented sigh from a baby drifting to sleep after a treatment, it’s the joy in the runner’s face when they run 5 miles pain free. It’s the simple stuff that connects us, that reminds us what we are, and why we do what we do.
My patients are all remarkable, babies, children, adults and elderly alike, and they continually teach me how to be a better physio.
I have worked with some amazing physiotherapists, and health care professionals, in private practice, in GP practices, on the wards, in hospital outpatient departments, in the workplace, on the pitch side and at sports events. They all strive to do their best, be the best they can be, at that moment, with their patients.
Vicky Smith, of Taylored-fit Physio, Durham, has been a physio for 22 years, and also specialises in craniosacral therapy and acupuncture.