I’m sorry that it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, I’ve just been so busy trying to find my place in the world and stay afloat that I’ve barely had enough time to breathe, let alone write. The year 2019 has been a roller coaster for me and I want to share how that ride has been thus far. This installment will include my clinical experience in the winter .
I began the year preparing for my second clinical rotation in an inpatient neurological rehabilitation facility in the Quad Cities. I have a particular interest in neurological conditions, as the brain and its many powers are fascinating to me. Any time you see a patient with a neurological impairment you never know what you are going to get, so I was excited to explore this Pandora’s Box and figure out what role I could play to help patients overcome the insurmountable, inconceivable, and unforeseeable event that had taken over their lives. I treated patients who had narrowly survived heart attacks, traumatic strokes, amputations, and much more. I saw patients as young as 21 and as old as 94. Patients came from every cultural background, every country, every financial situation. Some patients had the most generous insurance while others had none. No matter the patient situation, hearing the stories of what they’d overcome is breathtaking. It really puts your life into perspective and makes you appreciate the things you take for granted. Here are some examples…
I have never….
…been in a country at war and had to witness rebel groups beheading my fellow villagers and family members as I run for my life to escape and become a refugee in the United States.
…dressed up to be Santa Claus at the park because I enjoy bringing a smile to the faces of thousands of children, only to suffer a massive stroke while I’m coloring my hair white and putting my costume on.
…been a college student walking from class to class daily, only to be attacked by a vicious brain infection that has sapped my ability to function in everyday life.
… battled cancer and diabetes, only to be faced with an amputation that eventually became so cumbersome that I would rather die than to fight another day.
The list goes on and on, but as you can see, there appears to be an unfortunate reality that bad things happen to even the best of people. This was my patient population, and this is where I had an opportunity to play a pivotal role in their lives. I was fortunate enough to get to know who they are and what makes them such outstanding people for 90 minutes per day as we fought together to overcome their worst nightmares. I was there shedding tears with them when they realized they would likely never walk again. I was there when their family members were fainting during treatment sessions from so much mental and emotional stress. I was there when they decided they were going to go to hospice care to be comfortable as they gave in to the long, hard battle that cancer had brought them. While these events are sad and difficult to deal with in nature, there were equally as many (if not more) experiences that were so overwhelmingly positive that they outweighed all of the negative experiences of days past. I was there when patients took their first steps when they hadn’t been able to move their leg for over a month. I was there when patients were given orthotics to compensate for their loss of function, allowing them to not only walk, but interact with their environment in meaningful ways when the previous prognosis was grim. And I have been there to teach family members how to perform car transfers the day before their loved one is to leave the place they’ve been working so hard in for the last two months. All of these experiences were so eye opening and rewarding, that it is hard for me to convey what it is like to go through that journey with another human being. Following this clinical I felt so enlightened and ready to change the world that I wanted to just jump in and be a real physical therapist already. Obviously since clinical rotations are limited and I’m still technically a student, I could not pursue that impulse. It was time to go back and be a student again so that I could get this academic road over with and be who I want to be.
Though I was overwhelmed with excitement for my clinical experience, I still woke up to an ever heavy cloud each and every day. It has cast a shadow over me since the death of my father last July. We had grown apart since I left home to chase my dreams back in 2012. I had also grown apart from most of my friends and the rest of my family. The reality is that you will inevitably grow apart from your friends as life progresses, but you should never allow yourself to grow distant with your family. Ultimately I became too busy for even my family to play a significant role in my life and this lead to years and years of separation. Between traveling all over the country for competition, training 50 weeks per year, and being overwhelmed with school, it just becomes difficult to play the game of catch up while still maintaining any meaningful social life outside of your team. I regret growing apart from everything and everybody I love, but I know that it was a necessary decision I had to make to set myself on the right path for the future. I have come to terms with this loss, but still find myself yearning to talk with him one last time. My feet have gotten heavier, my eyes darker, my energy depleting, my motivation diminishing. While it is not just losing him that has brought me to this point, it has taken a piece of my being away from who I once was. I am not whole, but I have found meaning in searching for ways to fill in the emptiness that is left. I have found my best coping mechanism to be channeling my desire to help others succeed and defy the odds. I want to help others understand the opportunity they have and to make the most of it. I want others to understand how precious this life is and to make a better future for not only themselves, but for their families. I spent a great chunk of my life separating from my loved ones in order to become a world class athlete. I gained a level of knowledge on so many things that has made my utility belt heavy. Why should I have all these tools if I’m not going to use them? Why did I go through all of this if I wasn’t going to utilize my experiences to enrich the world around me? It is because of these things that I set my goal to help young athletes maximize their potential and become not only elite performers, but outstanding human beings. I want to influence the youth to better their own lives and ultimately set themselves up for the brightest future.
While the majority of this blog feels like I’m simply journaling, there are meaningful messages I’ve tactfully placed throughout to hopefully give perspective on a variety of things. Here are a few things I hope that you can take away.
1 – Take nothing in this life for granted. Whatever you have currently, somebody else would kill for. Cherish that while you can because there’s no guarantee it will be there tomorrow.
2 – No matter what circumstances you are under, there is somebody else somewhere in the world who has it way worse than you could ever imagine. I may have lost my father, but I have not lost my livelihood. I may feel worthless at times, but at least I can go and do something meaningful in the world. I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to watch as radical groups in my war stricken country are beheading villagers by the 100s. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue an education while building a brand. These are all real opportunities that I have the liberty of taking advantage of. These same opportunities are not afforded to everybody and it is important that we are cognizant of this reality.
3 – Challenge yourself to make sense of your circumstances and grow from them. Life is full of trials, the difference between you and the next person is what you take away from those trials. Someone experiencing an unfortunate event can say “woe is me” while another person experiencing the same thing can say “challenge accepted”. This differing mindset can lead one person to crumble and another to prosper. This is your opportunity to rise from the ashes and reignite your flame, to be someone you never realized you could be.
4 – The psychological lens through which we view things can drastically affect the way we react to adversity. The question is, do you have the sense of self, the awareness, or the curiosity to shift your viewpoint? Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and even for a moment try to imagine a world from that perspective? How would you feel? What would you want? What would you do? What could you do? How would that change who you are? What would be most important to you? There is no limit to which this idea applies. Whether you are empathizing with a patient who has just become paralyzed from the neck down or just a random stranger in the community, you should always be looking at life in new and challenging ways.
5 – Finally, no matter what path you choose to walk in life, never forget where you started and who helped get you there. Despite being semi-satisfied with my current situation, I will regret for the rest of my life growing apart from my family as I pursued new beginnings. I understand that life is about making sacrifices, but know what you can and can’t sacrifice. I’m here to tell you that no matter what, you should never even for a moment consider sacrificing a familial bond. You have the rest of your life to build social groups. You have the rest of your life to pursue money. You have the rest of your life to build yourself into the person you want to become. You do not have the rest of your life to call and check on your grandparents. You do not have the rest of your life to sing Happy Birthday over FaceTime to your teenage brothers and sister. You do not have the rest of your life to hug your parent or parents and tell them you love them. You will not always get to send a “Happy Father’s/Mother’s Day” text to brighten your parents’ mornings. Do these things while you can, and I promise you will feel more whole because of it.
If you have read this far and I have not completely bored you to this point, thank you. I’ve got an abundance of fairly unique ideas and perspectives I want to share and if it helps even one person in a tough situation, then that is success in my eyes. This will conclude the Prelude: PT1 to my blog. I am hoping to have another post ready next Friday that goes more into depth about chasing my doctorate in physical therapy, training athletes, growing my business, and other aspects of life as I continue to try and make a difference in the community and set myself up for success in the future.
Please feel free to comment, tweet, share, critique, etc. I’m always looking to have meaningful discussions! If it is even one word, one emoji, or one punctuation mark that will be well received and I will take it into consideration when thinking about the presentation of my next installment: Prelude:PT2. Any and all feedback is appreciated!!!
Thank you all for your time,
Brendan Thompson, SPT
Founder of BT Exceleration