A Snail's Pace: Patience is a Virtue


It’s hard to sit on my hands. Whether I am helping a kid, a peer, or my grandma, I have a difficult time being patient. I like to be efficient, and when I watch someone do something slowly, it makes my skin crawl. In everyday life, it often doesn’t matter who does the task, and frequently it is easier for everyone if the fastest person does it. In rehabilitation, it’s a different story.

I bet that most OT’s have had to sit on their hands constantly. OTs are usually efficient multi-taskers, and the USA has a fast-faced society, chronologically bound. With insurance time-limits and overscheduling, there isn’t always the luxury of waiting for a patient to finish a task on their own time. Just in my limited years of observation, I’ve often watched in admiration as the OT does patiently watch and not help while a patient slowly completes some activity. I feel like yes, some OTs are naturally more patient than others, but that it is probably mostly a learned skill, cultivated from days, months, years of practice in a rehab setting.

At several points during the semester, our class has been able to observe people with various issues who were subsequently very slow to handle ADLs like grooming, dressing, cooking, etc. There has been several times where I have been in pure and utter agony while watching someone complete a task s l o w l y, because I wanted to help so badly . I know I am not the only one who felt that way, because I would watch some of the other students fidget or held their hands clasped behind their back, as if they knew their hands would flutter to help if left free. After a few minutes of watching these tasks, I always just want to scream ENOUGH ALREADY PLEASE LET ME HELP YOU FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THIS WORLD!!!!!!!! Luckily, the screams stay in my head.

Now, I realize the whole point is for the client to be independent, and that it certainly isn’t easy with a bunch of people watching, and that it is amazing the clients have the patience to keep trying without any visible frustration. So it is not that I don’t understand or realize the point of these exercises (usually to show us how assistive devices work or alternate ways to do something). They are great learning experiences and very helpful for a variety of reasons. But more than anything else, they are HUGE reminders to me that I need to work (a lot) on the virtue of patience.

I will have to sit on my hands quite a bit in the beginning, and slowly cull the experience needed to help me figure out when the patient has reached their frustration overload and I should intervene, versus when I should sit there serenely, benignly encouraging and verbally cuing the patient, hands OFF!

*Disclaimer: as always, all names, details, situation changed – only the moral lesson remains the same.

Jun 23, 2007 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: none

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