I’ve been doing physical therapy for sixteen years. The first twelve were in outpatient, the last four in home care. In home care you work on some pretty sick folk. Folk close to the end. Every day is a reminder that we’re not here forever. Our lives must come to an end.
In the past four years, of the hundreds of patients I’ve worked with, and the multiple deaths I’ve been notified of, only two have really rattled me.
Don’t get me wrong, I take all of them to heart. I care about my patients. To me they’re not just a diagnosis or a visit on a schedule. They’re people. People with memories and families and reasons to live. People who have touched the lives of others and been touched themselves. The least I can do is give them my very best and take my work with them personally.
The two that rattled me were both older gentleman, soft-spoken, sincere. They’d lived a lot and accomplished much in their lives. They weren’t famous or rich or even particularly successful according to most people’s standards, but they were real, they were genuine, they were kind and giving and treated others with respect. I admired them.
I heard about both of their deaths via a phone call, after I had just seen them a couple days earlier. Both were relatively healthy, certainly not sitting on death’s doorstep. And both were hard to take.
Their deaths (and the deaths of so many others) serve to remind me of a few things:
- Life on this earth comes to an end. Sooner or later we all have to pay the piper.
- It’s up to us to leave fingerprints on the lives of others. To a significant degree, we determine the legacy we leave.
- Make every contact with every person count for something. For me, this means taking my job seriously and my contacts with patients personally. Never forget that they are people, not numbers or visits or diagnoses. It also means to take my writing seriously. It’s my way of touching folks I can’t meet personally.
Question: How can you more effectively impact the lives of others? Who do you come in contact with that you can touch in a personal way?
For those of you who don’t know, my real job is in home care physical therapy. Every day I’m invited into people’s homes to address their physical maladies . . . and emotional and psychological. I talk to them, get to know them, laugh with them, and sometimes cry with them. It can be very fulfilling and very taxing as well.
I posted this on Facebook but since some of you don’t frequent “the book” all that much it’s worth mentioning again. I visited a man the other day, Italian guy from NYC, real Godfather type. When our session was over he shook my hand with both of his and said in his best godfatherly voice, “Michael, you’re good people. You’re welcome here anytime.”
I was honored. For him, giving me free access to his home, an open welcome, was obviously a big deal. It meant he trusted me and enjoyed my company.
Why? Because I saw him as not just a patient with a problem, but as a person, a living, breathing, flesh and blood person with feelings and desires and a life to get back to. And that meant a lot to him.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: as my dad taught me by both modeling and instructing, “People come first. Always.”
They come before protocols and regulations, before policies and procedures, before schedules and productivity requirements. People are at the center of God’s heart and should be at the center of ours.
I try to keep this in mind not only when doing my full-time job, but while doing my part-time job as well. I write for you, the reader. You’re always on my mind while I’m creating a story, how you’ll like this scene or what you’ll get out of that scene. How you’ll relate to the characers. I want my stories to bless and inspire you, to encourage and yes, even challenge you. My greatest desire is that you’ll walk away from my books changed. It may be a small change, barely noticeable to the outside world, or it may be a change that’s colossal, revolutionary. But either way, you’ve been affected and I’ve done my job.
As you go about your day, work your job, interact with your family, serve at your church, remember that important lesson: People come first.