The Other Testimonial
As a physical therapist, Bob Gorinski pushes his patients to get them back to full health, but the patients who don't make a full recovery are the ones who push his faith to the limits. As part of our theme Give God the Glory, Gorinski shares an unusual testimonial about God's work in his life.
As a physical therapist (PT), I’ve spent the past fifteen years empowering hundreds of people to overcome their limitations, helping the incapacitated become capable. I’m no magician. Physical therapists can only facilitate what the Great Physician has already provided.
In one way or another, a resilient capacity for physical movement has been written into our DNA. The miracle occurs every day through systematically imposing mechanical forces on the body, training new movement patterns, and providing detailed guidance with a dose of perspective. Balance, coordination, and confidence improve with practice. Injured tissues heal when given rest and adequate nutrition. An appropriate dosage of physical stress makes them resilient.
Testimonials of Success
Like other allied health professionals, I could fill brochures and marketing slicks with patient testimonials. I want to tell you about the athlete who returns to basketball and jumps even higher than before his fracture. I will boast about the mother who cares for her young children with no need to be mindful of pain and numbness in her arm. I will celebrate the security guard who confidently puts his feet on the floor in the morning without the searing burn of his plantar fascia.
While filtering out the opinions and outcomes of the most successful clients may fit the bill for advertising, these are quite limited in scope. I’ve been around the healthcare block, at least in the realm of orthopedics. When you read an impressive testimonial, do not imagine that every client skips out of that office kicking their braces, medications, or crutches to the curb.
Reminders of My Limits
“This is not helping.”
Jim hesitates, walks his hands down his thighs, and slowly lowers himself to the treatment table to assume a kyphotic sitting posture. He insists that his lower back “just needs to be put back in” despite the fact that this approach applied elsewhere has not helped him for months. He imagines that relief lies in some perfect combination of manipulative (cracking type) procedures and state-of-the-art equipment. He rolls his eyes when I revisit the suggestion that one of the best things that he can do for himself is simply sit up with good posture. Jim insists that he did not have time for the three movements that I asked him to perform on his own.
Who am I to question him? I attempt to think of a different way to communicate the idea that healing is going to require time and effort. I remind myself that in the end, following through with basic instruction is his choice.
Jane limps into the office, shrugs her shoulders while explaining that Dr. F has instructed her to discontinue physical therapy. I’m puzzled. Jane is recovering from Achilles tendonitis while attempting to regain strength and balance following a knee replacement. She is at increased risk for falling and can hardly pull herself out of a chair.
I’m painstakingly mindful not to under- or overutilize PT services. How long Jane attends should be a decision between her and me. I will sit at my desk after office hours, typing a letter that describes exactly why Jane is a good candidate for continued physical therapy. Based on history, I know that PT tests and measures do little to change the opinion of Dr. F.
Another client, Sheri, has been the perfect patient. She is going on three weeks of treatment and has faithfully completed her home exercises, yet her shoulder pain persists. Her stress of performing insufficiently at work compounds when I say that further diagnostic testing may be warranted.
Why is it so hard to simply say that I have no answers for her? The most challenging cases are the ones, like Sheri’s, that fail despite great attitudes and expectations. They are a living reminder of the limits of my profession, clinical knowledge, and skills.
The Other Testimonial
While success stories are rewarding, good for PR, and a truly awesome display of our body’s design, the failures are where God is most evident in my work. You won't read those testimonials in the Sunday paper or in a glossy brochure. But if I were to ask Jesus himself how I’m doing at work, I suspect that he would filter through our electronic medical records and select the dropouts and difficult patients for review.
Did I act with compassion and grace toward those who are unwilling to acknowledge the need for an active role in their health? Did I remain humble toward the skeptical clients and colleagues who clearly find little value in what I have to offer? Did I remain generous and honest toward the clients who were simply beyond my capacity to serve medically?
It is a good thing to “Praise God” as a person recovers and moves deliberately with renewed strength. But God also gets the glory when I have little to gain or offer yet manage to serve well the suffering, the impatient, and the misinformed. In this I know that success as a PT occurs not on my own, but with Jesus at work through me. This is the other testimonial that occurs in my office.