Once upon a decade I had this prodigious opportunity to master my profession. I was a senior at the university in OT school and was provided with the opportunity of a life time. My professor, Mary Pat, challenged me with an internship. She has always been my mentor and life-long friend. The internship was the possibility to train at one of the most prestigious health systems in the world, The Mayo Clinic. This was one of the most challenging, scary, abundant experiences of my life.
I packed my 1979 AMC Hornet, (that only motored because of my Dad and brother) from floor to ceiling, front, back, seats and trunk with every belonging and set out with my 2 friends for Rochester Minnesota. Homeless, a couple hundred dollars in my pocket; I left at 4 am Saturday morning and would spend the day looking for an apartment with hopes that I could get the keys before it got dark.
Thirteen hours and 4 apartments later, my friends and I found a 3 bedroom 12 blocks from the Clinic. Furnished, no shower, a slanted floor, torn carpet and an unheated porch as a bedroom a perfect new Rochester home. Little did I know, I would spend only a few hours a night sleeping there, because the rest of my internship would be at one of the hospitals or clinic.
The next day would be spent learning the city, finding St. Mary’s and Methodist hospital and unpacking. As I unpacked my suit case of clothes I remember overhearing Mom saying: “Frank, we cant send him with these clothes, they are rags, I am ordering him dress shirts, ties and dress pants to wear under his lab coats.” Dad responded, as he always did, “ok Treeh,” (his nickname for Mom). My suit case was packed with starched white shirts, new ties and black and navy dress pants that Mom had carefully folded wrinkle free for my journey.
The Mayo Method
Monday morning came all too fast. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, dress slacks, starched lab coat and tie, I hurried to the bus stop so I would not be late. The room was full of eager interns, nervous and awaiting their assignment. My name was called. Without hesitation I moved toward a short, stern, grey haired lady in a wool skirt and a white lab coat. As I approached, her arm bolted out as though to strike me but instead she extended her hand for a firm shake, Sister Carl, she said, people call me Carl though. Sister Carl headed out the door and I quickly followed as not to get lost. She was short but had great speed for such short legs. As she almost ran down the long marble hallway, she was talking a mile minute, setting expectations for my performance, what I would need to learn, how many patients I would see. Panting to keep up with her, she turned and said’ “young man pick up the pace, we have patients to see. I like to see two extra a day than everyone else to justify my keep,” As I picked up my walking speed, I could hear Sister mumble under her breath, “Jiminy Cricket, we have our work cut out for us.”
The next 9 hours Sister saw patients, back to back. She pointed to a little stool in the corner of the room and said; “watch, take notes, be silent and learn.” She was focused, fast and had a plan for each individual. She kept notes on a little torn piece of paper that would become her progress notes. It was 6 pm and all the patients had gone, staff where silently writing in the record room. Sister joined to finish her notes of the days work until 730pm. She pointed to a stack of books 12 inches high on her desk, “those are for you, study and get prepared for the work ahead of us.
The next weeks, my days were filled with treating patients and in the night, I read books, research articles and practiced therapy methods. Some nights I studied until 3-4 am which only left enough time to sleep a couple hours before rushing to the hospital in the morning.
Here comes the rain again
One morning I woke up late so I would have to take my car to the hospital instead of the bus. Parking would be expensive, but I definitely did not want to be late meeting Sister. Still short of time, I rushed to the car in the pouring rain, carrying all my study materials Sister had given me to learn overnight. I open the car door, dropped two books on the wet pavement, hurried I jumped in the car and slammed the door. Quickly, I dried Sister’s books on with my pant leg so the pages would not wrinkle. Drenched and out of breath, I was chocked by my tie, that was slammed in the car door. As I released myself from the choke hold of the car door, I was stunned to learn of a greasy stain and fresh ripped hole in my tie. With no time to turn back, I put the car in drive a sped off to the hospital.
As I walked in the door, Sister called across the room, hey mister, come here. She grabbed my tie and said “what is this, no go bud,” put on another tie. Of course I only had three and both were at my apartment. I turned and said, “Sister, I do not have any others with me, I am sorry.” Jiminy Cricket, button up that lab coat to cover up that tie before I tie you to the door with it! Worried that she might, I quickly buttoned up. She mumbled under her breath, “we have our work cut up for us.”
Today Sister would be testing my therapy skills as I worked with a new patient. She said, ready bud, today is test day, did you study last night? I responded, yes Sister. I could never bring myself to call her Carl, it must have been my catholic conscious that was incised in my brain when I was a kid. The patient arrived by transport and I got started on the session. My heart was pounding, hands shaking and I felt on fire wearing a tie and buttoned up lab coat. The patient and I were on the therapy mat where I would work on exercises to stretch her muscles, measure her motion and work on hand coordination.
As the therapy session progressed, Sister was pacing around us watching my every move. It seemed like everyone in the room could hear my heart pounding in my chest. My back was soaked with sweat, my forehead spotted with perspiration as I worked carefully to show my technique to Sister. I was focused on measuring the joints in the patients hand as Sister peered over my shoulder so close I could feel her breath on the back of my neck. Sweating enough to fill a rain barrel, I could feel the perspiration building on my forehead. Amidst the focus, a big splash of sweat fell right off my face and onto my patient. No, this could not have happened, please god tell me this did not just happen, I thought to myself. Afraid to turn back to see if Sister had noticed, I felt a swat on my back, and the echo of the words, BUD STEP OUT SIDE THE ROOM. My patient looked up at me with empathetic eyes and a big smile as I followed Sister out to the hallway. NO, NO, NO, you cannot sweat on the patients she squawked! Stop sweating now she yelled! She mumbled under her breath as she walked back into the room, Jiminy Cricket, we have our work cut out for us.”
All the Kings Horses
Friday was going to be a special lunch for the interns with the Physiatrist on the Rehab unit. He as an awesome doctor. Kind, patient and willing to teach or answer and questions of the interns. He was demanding of his therapists, and was a great leader. Friday’s lunch would be at the an outside restaurant called the Terrace Cafe. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was proud to be at such a great learning institution. I had my own schedule of patients now and got to work directly many professional staff at the hospital and the clinic.
My confidence had grown, I was feeling like I belonged and my skills were equaling those around me. I was even having thoughts of staying on at Mayo and applying for my first job. I looked forward to the lunch with the other interns and doctors on the Rehab Unit. Laughing, sharing stories and plans for the weekend filled the conversation as we all walked to the Terrace Cafe. The Cafe was overloaded with doctors in white lab coats. I was gleaming with honor to be able to training with some of the worlds best clinicians. My ego was heavy almost to the point of arrogance, but mostly pride to have achieved this noble experience. I was enchanted by my accomplishment and today was a great celebration.
Everyone was taking their seats on the terrace. The terrace was beautiful, filled with spring flowers the patio cascaded at least 5 times with white bistro tables on each level. I joined my friends who were already seated. We were laughing and enjoying the break from the hospital. True to form, I was talking a mile a minute and was not paying attention. As I sat on the perfect little bistro chair, I could feel that I was tipping backward. Before I could catch myself, I could see that the fourth leg of the perfect little bistro chair was off the terrace and my big self slowly rolled off the cement, on top of the what were tulips and slid onto the grass. As I hit the ground, a clamor of laughter filled that patio. Could this really be happening? Was I really on the ground covered in grass stains and dirt right before a group of Mayo Clinic Doctors and all my peers? As I lay there for a moment in discomposure, I thought to myself, “you could awkwardly get up and return to your seat and say nothing or get up, take the high road in the situation and do what you do best.” So, I got my big self off the ground, dusted myself off, put my arms in the air above my head and turned to the crowd of doctors and interns and bowed as if it was the grand finale on a theater stage. I smiled confidently as I returned to my table as applause permeated the terrace.
As I returned to the therapy room on the Rehab Unit, Sister greeted me holding a clean white lab cost, shaking her head mumbling under her breath, “Jiminy Cricket, we have our work cut out for us.”
It was my last day on the Rehab Unit. I had progressed to a full schedule treating 9 patients a day, the same as Sister. My focus was intense, my nervousness disappeared and gained self-confidence in my ability to be part of the team. I learned so many new skills and grew competent in my techniques. I was attending a family conference today for the first patient I worked with on the stroke service. Her stroke had affected her ability to speak, eat, walk and dress and bathe herself. She was a lovely women.
Although 78, prior to the stroke, she was very active. Took care of her husband and 8 grandchildren. She volunteered at the gift shop in a local hospital. She gardened, cooked and played bridge once a week with her friends. When we first met, she was sad, like her whole life had been taken away. Honestly, I thought the same thing for her that day. But I knew then as I do now, it was my job to instigate her faith. Faith was a skill that I brought with me from home, not one I learned on the Rehab Unit.
In the early days of her therapy, I tried to make her laugh, learn about what she liked, figure out her favorites in life. We grew close as she shared stories of her family and I shared with her stories about mine. Everyday, she worked hard to regain the most basic skills of life like dressing, brushing her teeth and we even practiced making a pie. She loved to bake for her family. I was amazed at her progression and commitment to heal.
She regained her ability to walk with a cane, dress and bathe herself again. She talked about summer and her plans for her garden. She would no longer plant flowers in ground, but sit on a chair as she planted flowers in pots. Her faith to return to life was evident. She was my first patient and the last patient of my internship.
Sister Carl, listened as my patient spoke of her accomplishments. She spoke gratefully of all the staff on the Rehab Unit as she reached out to grab my hand across the table. A feeling that I will never forgot. She said, “and to John, who become my friend and my therapist I am truly thankful. ” He helped me see a future, instilled in me the faith in my ability to recovery and establish a new journey, I am most grateful for him.” She went on to say with a big smile, “besides, it is really hard not to like someone who shares everything he has to offer, even a splash of sweat.”
Sister Carl was shaking her head as I heard her mumble under her breath,
Jiminy Cricket, and by the grace of God our work is done here!