For those who read about “Dwayne” last week, I’m happy to say that he’s doing well and I should discharge him in next week, as planned. We were working on some hand strengthening activities the other day, which is always a good time to talk (except for those times where I use the “I don’t have to pay attention to you every single second” time to catch up on my paperwork, LOL!). In the midst of the conversation, he said that he’s had a lot of time to think about his hospitalization and the things they didn’t focus on (the pain in his knee, his cough) and has come to realize that having a heart attack is much more important so he could understand how certain events did or didn’t happen despite the hospital workers’ skin color and/or what country they came from. So apparently he’s now cool with everything that happened and he no longer plans on complaining to whatever powers that be. Knowing how hospitals tend to work, I personally think he still has some valid complaints (Helloooo, doctor walking out of the room while Dwayne was still asking him questions?!?!?) but that’s his issue, not mine and I know it. I also know that a complaint from an 85-year-old crabby guy isn’t going to “fix” a doctor’s poor bedside manner anyway. Sigh.

I have a new guy, “Martin”, who recently had a stroke. Not a bad one, but bad enough where he’ll be doing exercises with me for the next 4 weeks to strengthen his left arm. He’s got some breathing and cardiac issues too, so I’ll be showing him how to do some “everyday life” things (putting on pants, taking a shower, etc.) with less strain so he doesn’t get short of breath (which, by the way, is abbreviated with the letters SOB. I’ve always loved that).

Seeing new patients is like meeting anyone new – you have to size them up pretty quickly so you know what you’re dealing with, personality wise, and I feel you need to make a good impression so they will like you and be comfortable with you (I’ve found that the stronger those feelings are, the more willing they may be to what you ask of them). I’m really good at the first part – I’ve been a Occupational Therapist for 20+ years, plus I worked in Psychiatry for 11 years – I can read people really well and very quickly. Making myself likable is another story. It’s not because I’m unlikable (granted, there are some people out there who would think that – but those are the people to whom I’ve purposely made myself unlikable, LOL! But there’s a method to my madness…if they don’t like me, they leave me ALONE!), but simply because different people respond differently to different personality types. Some people are depressed, angry or otherwise distressed because they’re sick or because of other reasons, and they may need a lot of empathy. Or they may need a perky, bubbly person to help get their mind off of what’s wrong and start to focus on what’s right. OR they may respond best to an empathetic-and-perky person. Some people (especially, in my experience, high raking retired military) don’t like being told what to do, especially by women – they require a different type of personality to get them to do what I want them to do. Native New Yorkers generally have different expectations of people than native Floridians. Some patients work better with a “no nonsense” approach, some with a “sweet, kind, gentle” approach – and I have to figure out in the first 5 or 10 minutes what will work best for each of them. I have to break that wall of “I don’t know you and don’t know what to expect of you” so we’re on the same page and we’ll be able to work together as efficiently as possible.

But back to Martin. He was a nice enough guy, although his broken hearing aids forced me to use my “old person who’s hard of hearing” voice (hooray for leather lungs!). The whole family has had a run of bad luck recently – besides his issues that have been going on since January, his wife of 60-something years has also been sick with a relapse of the cancer she’s been fighting for 11 years. Their son is out of work so he’s moved back in with them and is currently the “paid help” for both of them (fortunately, the son is capable and realistic, so it’s all good). But, to his credit, Martin has been taking it all in stride and has had a good attitude, which is sometimes half the battle. However halfway through my evaluation I could tell he still didn’t trust me and I knew I still needed to break through that wall. During the course of conversation I asked what he did for a living and it turned out he was in the military for 22 years and then was a high school teacher for a long time. Well that just about sealed his fate for me. I looked at him with a gleam in my eye and a wry grin and said, “Retired military AND a high school teacher? Wow. You must be one tough cookie. I guess I better not try to give you any crap then, huh?” He just looked at me in disbelief for a second, then started chuckling. “No, I guess you better not. But I think we’re going to get along just fine,” he said.

Wall officially broken.