When I was a graduate physical therapy student at West Virginia University, I was blessed with some incredible professors. I learned from, worked side by side with, was challenged by, and inspired by some amazing professionals that taught my classmates and I about the many basics and specialized area of the practice of physical therapy. This morning, I was thinking about of my favorites. Dr. Mary Beth Mandich was (and is) the chair of the PT department and is a pediatric specialist. She inspired me through the research she did, the collaboration and influence she had on the NICU department at our university’s medical center, and her deep knowledge in many pediatric interventions. And while I remember all of that, it is something different that I remember most about her. Often times, when discussing a case, or teaching, it becomes automatic for a therapist (or other medical professional) to describe the patient by their diagnosis. For example, “I had a 54 year old right hemi,” to describe someone who had a hemiplegic stroke. This was a NO-NO in Dr. Mandich’s code of ethics. I remember her passionately explaining to us, that these people, OUR patients, were people, not diagnoses. She firmly but passionately explained that “that hemi” could be a father, a son, a golfer, a dreamer, a wood maker, a friend, and a sports fan. Labeling them by their diagnosis lessened their individuality and lessened the focus on WHY it was so important for us to do the best job we could to rehabilitate them. When someone would slip and label their patients by diagnosis, Mr. Mandich wouldn’t lecture or belittle us. She, like a seasoned Mom, would give us “the look” until we caught our own mistake and corrected ourselves. That lesson of love has stuck with me for 13 years of practice.
I am married to an occupational therapist. This is helpful when we can support each other with knowledge and experience in out own fields and quirky and weird when we have conversations on the beach about people’s gait deviations as they walk by. Yes, most couples might comment, “Wow, look at those abs!” Brent and I say, “Wow, what an antalgic hip…it needs replaced!” Strange, I know. Anyway, Dr. Mandich’s lesson has even permeated our marriage! When my husband comes home and says, “I had this below knee amputee today,” I now give him “the look,” and he quickly corrects to “I had a man today who had a below knee amputation.” He’s gotten pretty good at avoiding the label over the years himself!
So I was thinking about Dr. Mandich and labels today. Is it human nature to label people? Is it easier for us if we can put them in clearly defined little boxes? I think it might be. We do it all the time, but it doesn’t mean it is a good thing. We label other mothers….”Type A, Anti-vax, homeschooling, drill sargent, stage mom, granola cruncher”…whatever. We do it to professionals in our lives…”the grouchy teacher, the inattentive doctor, the crazy post lady.” We even do it to our kids! “This one is lazy. That one is high strung.”
Here’s the thing. It’s true that these labels might be ONE describer of an individual (or maybe not). But would you want to be identified by just ONE word? I would not. Especially this morning because it would be GRUMPY!
So here’s my Monday morning challenge to myself…and to you. When you encounter people this week, anyone from the clerk at Target to your spouse, the child you work with to your own child, try to avoid the label…even in your mind. And together let’s see what consciously doing so does to change US!
Need a visual inspiration to do so? I love this one! Have a great week!