29 November 2013

Reason #476 Why I Have the Best Job Ever

When I was in high school I wanted to go grow up and take pictures for a living.  I wanted to go to art school and study photography and drawing.

But my parents said 'Over our dead bodies!!' (maybe in a slightly more tender way . . . then again, maybe not).

My mom always suggested becoming a doctor . . . but I hated math and who in their right mind wants to spend all those years in the library??  Not me!!  So I thought about Physical Therapy.  I began passing my Saturday mornings volunteering at a local hospital, pushing wheel chairs and pulling oxygen tanks . . . I helped clean out the Hubbard Tank after burn patients had dressing changes . . . and I knew I had found my calling . . . until one day, a new therapist showed up and changed everything!
'Why does she get to play while we are working?' I asked the therapist.

He looked up from helping the patient do repetitive exercises.  'Oh, she's our OT.'

'Your what???'  

Surrounded by colorful cones, peg boards, theraputty, teacups and a funny stick with lobster-like claws on the end (which I found out later is God's gift to the world we call a Long Handled Reacher) . . . she chatted away while her patient happily simulated putting a shirt on over his head, laughing and jolly and thrilled beyond words to be in therapy.

I glanced back at our patient who had broken a sweat trying to get in three more leg-lifts, and looked as if he was scheming up ways to reverse the situation and torture this madman who insisted that despite all odds, this man could over come the pain and fatigue and misery and get his knee moving again.

It was in that moment that I was certain I never wanted to count an other exercise set again!  No, I wanted to have tea parties . . . that helped the newly-disabled get better, of course!

But truth be told, Occupational Therapy only looks like play on the surface!  It's really a facilitation of function disguised by everyday life tasks and activities.  I don't know about you, but outside of the gym, when do any of us lift hand weights above our heads . . . but what about lifting a box of heavy-enough Christmas decorations into overhead storage in your garage?  See what the OT did there??  You thought you were cleaning up your holiday festivities, really you were working on functional strength and endurance training in context.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying we're better than Physical Therapy . . . maybe just a little more fun (cue: PT tomato throwing . . . now!)

And the reality is, our scope of practice is so huge it takes about two and half pages, single spaced in 10-pt font to answer the question 'What exactly does an OT do??'  And for those of you who follow this lately-very-inconsistent-with-my-posting blog, you've gotten a good taste of what it looks like in the least-developed-country-in-the-world.

But brace yourself, I'm about to blow your mind!

One time when I was flying above the dry, dusty landscape of Niger in the little SIMAir plane, CaptainE. informed me I was wrong . . . I did not have the best job in SIMNiger!  He did!  And for a while I settled for second-best.  

But those of you who know me will attest that I don't take defeat lightly and will keep on fighting until the fatal blow.  So, CaptainE, consider this Round Two!

A few months back I got a text message from our mechanic . . . he had some back pain and wanted to know what he could do about it.  Since he's 469km away . . . which on Nigerien roads is 6-7 hours (or less, depending on who is driving and how many donkeys explode on the way . . . but that's another story) . . . I referred him to the best PT I know.

Look how much fun OT is!
Turns out it wasn't just back pain.

Months of therapy later, I received an email asking if I could come to Niamey and do a worksite evaluation on . . . drumroll please . . . the HANGAR!

Alright, truth be told, he actually smiles that much
all the time!
HOW AWESOME IS THAT!!!  I don't know about you other OT's out there, but when I hear 'worksite eval' I think of a guy with carpal tunnel who needs his chair repositioned so his elbows and knees are at 90 and his head/neck is in neutral.  Maybe if I got really creative I'd branch out to a place like DHL making sure an employee is lifting heavy boxes with a safe technique and using complex assistive devices like a hand-truck or dolly.

Never, in my wildest dreams did I think that being an OT in Niger would mean getting to hang out with an airplane all day!  I mean . . . uh . . . the injured airplane mechanic.

He went through bits of his regular routine, and I kept track of body positions that aggravated symptoms, the length of time each position or task was tolerable, and which pieces of equipment helped or made things worse.

Now, you know how much I love burn care . . . and my work in the hospital . . . but this!  I could hang out with airplanes . . . I mean . . . uh . . . injured airplane mechanics all day!  

So take that, CaptainE!  What's better than being a SIMAir Pilot??  A SIMAir OT!


Leah said...

Yeah, I'm jealous, too--that is, of the airplane folks. I spent my whole middle school and high school career begging our little municipal airport folks to give me a job. They never did. But I did get to wash rich people's airplanes--that was as close as I got, and I was in heaven. Heck, maybe I'm a little jealous of your OT job, too...much as I sure do love delivering babies and helping moms. So my question is, how far can those SIMAir guys fly, and can they come get me in Mali for a visit to Galmi?

Leslie said...

Hi Deborah. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I went to ozark Christian college for missions and then returned to school and am a COTA. I am looking to bridge to a OT program but I was wondering if spending sometime with you and helping out and learning would be an option? I work in peds currently and would love to talk to you about the possibilities. Hope to hear from you. owens.lesliem@gmail.com.

Michelle said...

*4 hrs - though it certainly feels like 4yrs along the way!

Deb. said...

LESLIE!!! I have good news . . . we have LOTS and LOTS of children in Niger!!! And I am ALWAYS in need of help! I'll send you an email right now, before I forget and you never hear from me . . . cause I can't multitask!