Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bells and Butterflies.

I have been thinking a bit on work, prompted by an excellent post by Goddess over at HDYDI, by her post abut Palin on her own site and by a movie Tim and I watched last night. The movie is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a book I had read in my previous life of pre-kids/working full time.

I was surprised by the movie, I chose it because the title seemed familiar and the reviews were excellent. It did not occur to me that I had read the book of the same title some years ago. I know I must have been prompted to read it by someone in my old workplace. What surprised me was how I had completely forgotten the story of the man in the movie, the story of a relatively young and very successful Frenchman who had a major CVA (stroke) which left him ‘locked in’, that is alert, aware of his surroundings and completely cognizant of his situation only totally and utterly paralyzed except for the ability to blink his eyes.

If you have not heard or seen this movie, I recommend it. It is done well, it captures the essence of the book and the essence of the man. It neither uplifts nor terribly saddens you…it just gives you a broader awareness of the things that can happen to others.

Why did it prompt me to think of work? Well, for the first 8 years as a physical therapist I specialized in CVA and Brain Injury Rehabilitation. It was what I did. I worked day in and out in a specialized hospital with people who survived their ‘accidents’ and were coming out the other side, into a bewildering world where every action, every thought, all their freedom was altered. Sometimes it was a slight thing, sometimes it was a devastating blow, but they were all survivors and in a place where they then had to go on and sometimes completely re-learn the simplest of things.

I loved my work. It never freaked me out, though I tended to get overwhelmed at times, unable to dissociate myself from them, the ones I worked with. My thought on it was that I would provide care as if this person were my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my child. Not always the best way to maintain professional distance, but an excellent way to insure ethical and excellent treatment for a person. And I was pretty darn good at it too. There are many who came into out treatment facility that left, not whole, not totally healed, but enabled to take on their world in its new form. There are also many who did not. It is not a science, rehabilitation. It has a certain type of mystery, of challenge and of failure.

I spent many years doing this, always finding the next person to come into my care with some type of unique facet and some type of unique challenge. As the years went forward I scaled back to working part time, thinking I would not be able to maintain the work if we had children. I knew I could not be vested in the things work required while taking on the new challenge of Motherhood. The gift of my career was the appreciation it gave me for both the fragility and steel-like strength that is Life. The curse was the burden of loss and despair that one stands witness to in situations when one wakes to find their world unutterably altered.

I knew when I got pregnant I should no longer be in the Rehab setting. I am still glad I made the choice to move in the home sector of my profession. I now work for a company that brings the care into the patients’ homes. These are usually the elderly, recently returned from a stay in a hospital or care facility, in need of help during the transition back to home. It is rewarding, no where near as challenging and very part time. It is flexible and fairly easy to manage from home, though my documentation and organization could be better. It works for now.

But watching the movie and reading about the choices other Mamas make and have made and are making (sometimes in front of the whole world and the media and the RNC) made me reflect on those years. Those years I spent honing skills of observation, of physical intervention, of prioritization, using my judgment to help decide how and if and when a person could be deemed ready…they seem like along time ago. I am not sure I miss them, just that it seems odd they could have faded so completely from my current reality.

Whether I ever return to the intense setting I once comfortably navigated, whether I return to ‘real’ physical therapy at all, that I do not know. But I do think you should read or watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Just for a glimpse into another world.

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