There I was.
Less than one year out of graduating with my doctorate degree, down on the bathroom floor, kneeling in a pair of khakis, holding my breath, scrubbing the inside of a toilet and wondering how I got here.
Even though the above statement is accurate, your assumptions might mislead you, so let me explain.
Last spring, I graduate from Drexel University with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I graduated at the top of my class (which I realize doesn’t matter at al) and even delivered a graduation speech. I was standing on stage in a suit, addressing my classmates, and I said something to this effect…
Like Henry David Thoreau once said, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” It’s all about perspective and the best part is that you can choose what you see. Our profession, and life in general, is filled with uncertain times and when you’re not sure what to do next, just do the next right thing.
Fast forward one year to the spring of 2019, panic surrounding the COVID pandemic is hitting it’s peak and I’m replaying those words in my head as I clean bathrooms and wonder what’s going to happen next. To be clear, I was still employed at the outpatient clinic that I had been working. However since we had less than a handful of patients coming to the clinic, instead of treating full time, we were tasked with cleaning the facilities and doing whatever needed to be done. I was more than ok with that and that’s what this blog is about. This blog is about the things I’ve thought about and the lessons that I’ve learned as a healthcare professional going through some unusual times.
Title Means Nothing
I’ve heard conversations about how our title as “doctor’s” should somehow entitled us to certain benefits and circumstances. I’ve never agreed with those sentiments because to me, title means nothing and actions mean everything. To be frank, the title of “doctor” means next to nothing to me. Sure, I went through a lot of school and put in a lot of effort to get where I am, but those things are in the past. I’m about earning it every single day and scrubbing toilets reaffirmed that for me. Nothing is below me and I’m not define by my title. Rather, I’m willing to do what needs to be done. Whether it’s treating patients, answering phones, taking payments or even scrubbing toilets, and I’m not tied to a specific role because of my title. I’ll do whatever needs to be done and I will do it very well.
Do It Well
From time to time, my parents will tell me stories about how I used to love everything and anything “construction” related as a child. They talk about how I used to walk around the house at three years old with a tool belt “fixing things” (hitting them once with my toy hammer). My mother likes to point out that I wasn’t very good at fixing things. Well, over the years, that three year old child has grown into somewhat of a nut when it comes to doing things well. Whatever you do, do it well. The past few months cleaning bathrooms (among other things) have presented me with opportunities to do a really good job at things that I’ve never done before. I went from pouring all of my energy into treating patients to pouring cleaner down toilet bowls. Both those things had my full attention and effort. I have to say, the bathroom was very clean over the past few months and I was proud of that.
I think it’s human nature to be shell-shocked when big changes happen. This year brought the change of a lifetime with COVID-19. It turned our world upside down and I think that paralyzed most of the world. It would have been easy to sit back and twiddle my thumbs at work with only about 5% of my caseload coming into the clinic. However, between the occasional patient and the scrubbing of toilets, I saw opportunities open up and I wasted no time taking advantage. The best innovation sometimes happens in the middle of chaotic and uncertain times. During the first few months of COVID, I led a project to create 500+ Youtube videos to replace our archaic home exercise prescription system. I’m happy to say that the project was a success and there are way too many videos of me out there on Youtube. The lesson here is that there are always opportunities if you look hard enough. Even in the toughest times, there is a way forward and there are chances to make things happen. Look for them.
This one goes out to everyone who has been complaining since the spring. There is a time and a place to mourn, but at a certain point (five months now), we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start making moves. I have peers and friends who have lost jobs, been sick and lacked direction during the pandemic. I’ve listened to them and tried to help give practical and encouraging guidance. However, some of them just can’t get out of the self-sorrow hole that the circumstances have created. The message that I have for those people is this; life’s not fair but it could always be worse. Everyone is dealing with something, and a lot of those things aren’t fair. But then again, we can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with, feeling bad for yourself isn’t going to help the situation and there are worse things in the world. It sounds like tough love, but it’s true. Take ownership of what you can control, make an effort to move forward and try your best to find practice gratitude (there is a lot to be grateful for if you look in the right places).
Have Some Fun
Whether you’re treating patients, sitting at home or cleaning bathrooms, there is always a way to have some fun. That’s it. Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t forget to have some fun. If you’re in the right mindset and if you look in the right places, it’s there to be had.
I’m no longer cleaning toilets (except at home) and I’m excited to be seeing patients. However, a weird part of me will miss the change of pace that COVID first brought to the clinic. I wanted to document the things that I thought about as I did things I never thought I’d do. I want this blog to reach someone who thinks that they deserve something because of their title; you don’t. I hope that these words make it to the person who just can’t see a good way forward; there is. I wish that this writing touches the people who aren’t sure what the next step is; it’s the next right thing.
I hope you’re healthy and are staying safe!
Thank you for reading!
Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT