A Guide to Disorientation

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A "Whirling Dervish" is a Turkish dancer who ceremonially spins around to represent man's ascent toward perfection and a greater ability to service the whole of creation. For the first month of my residency, I too have been whirling; however, I am left feeling dizzy.

Learning 'The Dance'

The first spin I took was a slow, unbalanced maneuver to get my bearings. I was mostly getting "oriented." "Sorry, what's your name again?" "Seventh floor: SCI [spinal cord injury] or stroke?" "Where can I find the cast saw?" This is a sampling of the numerous questions that I asked (not always aloud) while trying to get my footing in a new environment. Initially the onslaught of inquiries was expected. After all, I am new. After a few days I got nervous. Everyone else was hurrying to and fro making headway on their busy routines, and I was breaking their rhythm trying to figure out what were the appropriate moves. I felt the need to prove myself right away, but with so much to learn—the procedures of the hospital, where all the essential tools and supplies are, and, of course, how this cog fits into the well-oiled machine that is the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC)—I could barely keep up.

Once I got through the first week and got a bit steadier on my feet, I was ready to try some new tricks. Unfortunately, I was mostly shadowing. Quietly I followed behind people with years of experience, waiting for a chance to apply some of the knowledge I had attained through countless hours of studying. When waiting became too cumbersome, I decided to ask for some responsibility. That is when I started on my journey to being a PRAFO® master. Despite the simplicity of fitting this device, I hadn't realized that it needed to be applied onto an actual person! The first patient that I saw "on my own" was a friendly young lady who had an SCI. Entering her room, ready to perform this new task, I choked up. I did not know how to directly interact with someone who had just gone through such a traumatic experience. Do I make small talk? Do I simply place the device on? Do I dare ask how she is doing? Other than a few beads of sweat and some awkward silences it went okay—I made it out unscathed as well. The subsequent patients seemed a bit easier to communicate with. So much so that I thought I would ask for some more duties...without any idea what would be in store for me.

Adjusting My Moves

I strut into the hospital Monday morning of the third week of my residency feeling pretty good about my ability to interact with patients and hungry for new experiences. My supervisors indulged my desire to expand my skill set, and even let me make my own agenda. Even though I enthusiastically leaped forward with my schedule in hand, I still had no idea what I was doing. That week I learned two valuable lessons: When it comes to dealing with patients, there is no set schedule, and time to practice your skills is limited. Every day I bounced around like a pinball between five floors, constantly searching for patients who were astray, being pulled aside by other clinicians with questions to which I had no confident answers, and continually re-planning my day. When I did find patients and got to work on their orthoses, I came to another realization. While in school creating a perfect device seemed to be illusive; in the real world when time is short, the idea of perfection quickly becomes a delusion.

My residency began exactly one month ago—160-plus experience-filled hours. So far no fatal mistakes (I should probably find a better phrase). I have become comfortable with my surroundings and those in them. Time with patients is usually joyful, especially when things go smoothly and they smile. I still do not have a set routine, but I am beginning to become more comfortable with my off-balance dance. I will probably never reach perfection, but at least I know when my moves become more refined, I can be of greater service to those people who need PRAFOs! I have so much more to learn.

Ronald A. Roiz is a resident at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Illinois. He is a graduate of the MSPO Program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, and will be sharing his experiences as he completes his residency.

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