Tonight I write you from my home in Manhattan, it is 7pm and the clapping has begun. This apartment has historically been my family’s refuge. It is now also my exercise studio, my children’s school, my husband’s office. All this in 850 square feet. The disruption of normal life has made me pensive…my day to day was once large, it is now small. There is an absence of shared community, in the physical sense, and I’ve had time to reflect on it’s value. Specifically, I’ve thought much about what it means to go in to work at Thrive.
I have always loved my job at Thrive. I’ve worked there since 2014, and have been aware that I am one of the lucky who like going to work everyday. Physical therapy is a natural fit for a curious, chatty extrovert. However, I was unaware of how deeply I relied on the community fostered there until I was no longer among it. In times of strife, it has been a balm to see familiar faces of the staff, our patients, the other tenants in the building, and shop owners in our neighborhood. It made the big city feel manageable. How scary can Manhattan be if Carol at the coffee shop knows me by name? We at Thrive have grown with one another over many years, and have been a witness to one another’s healing, growth, fragility, and humor. I have realized that “job” does not describe, for me, what I do there. The work is more shared, more communal than that word implies. We, patients and staff alike, are part of a collective. It is our purpose as employees to foster and serve that community. In turn, our patients have nurtured our curiosity, propelled us towards growth, and provided comfort in human interaction. WOW!
So, in recognition of our loss, temporary though it may be, what is there to be gained? What can we learn about ourselves as we transition to work online? How can we continue to support one another as a community if not sharing physical space? How can we, as physical therapists, help our patients maintain their health and wellness virtually?
In a broad sense, I have been amazed at the continued support that the Thrive staff has provided and received since our physical closure. I find myself in regular communication with my patients, and am bolstered each time I hear from them. They have emailed me: recipes, educational websites for children, mindfulness apps, yoga flows to calm you down, yoga flows to pump you up, books for when you’re sad, books for when you’re happy, books for when you’re too tired to read hard books, podcasts, TED Talks, and no less than 50 assorted Netflix suggestions. They’ve emailed to talk about their medical issues, but also their musings on this weird ride we’re on. Truly, this experience is universal. As such, our need for connection is. At least for me, my connection to the Thrive community is alive still, just moved to a more virtual platform.
As an individual, what can be gained from virtual PT? Perhaps surprisingly, quite a bit. An interesting shift has happened. When conducting a virtual session, the therapist has the benefit of visual assessment, verbal feedback, movement screens, etc. That said, there is no tactile intervention. We cannot over the computer feel what muscle you are using. Nor can we help release that muscle or alter it’s function with manual intervention. Instead, we ask the patient, “What do you feel? What can you do to change this muscle tone?” Absent of the manual PT feedback , the patient becomes arbiter of success. It requires and fosters a deeper understanding of one’s own movement. A more introspective, movement aware, and in control patient emerges. This empowerment of the patient can only be good, and these tools are indefinitely theirs to own. I find myself hoping that PT’s will continue, after quarantine is long over, to use what we are learning to enable our patient’s independence and confidence. A silver lining in an anxious time…
I count the days until we are physically together, when we can charge forward in our new normal and rebuild something beautiful. Until then, our community is alive and well. We as staff are here for you, the patients. It is our pleasure to check in, to field your emails, to help you navigate TeleHealth, and to be part of your team! In turn, you have bolstered and nurtured us with your inquiries, energies, and support. We are so grateful.
Elizabeth D’Annunzio Shah, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC works with patients of all ages and abilities including recreational athletes, professional dancers and performing artists. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance disorders, movement theory and creative solutions for both neurologically and musculoskeletally impaired persons. Elizabeth is passionate about exercise as a means to maintain health, manage stress and enjoy life! She practices yoga in the Iyengar tradition, is an avid surfer, and participates in distance running events whenever possible. (more)