Monday, March 19, 2012

Going the extra mile.

I recall being a newbie occupational therapist and having a keen sense of "having to put my time in." It is probably a broad cultural value passed to me first from my family. My Dad was a hard working person who I saw go to work every day and sometimes even every night when he was assigned an evening shift.

When I graduated from college I gravitated toward home care and consultative occupational therapy; the freedom and responsibility of these settings matched my interests and work style. Since I was a newbie and trying to work for home care agencies all of the preferred geographic areas were taken by more seasoned occupational therapists. That left me with assignments in far-flung areas where I had to drive up to an hour to get the the patient's home. I figured that I would accept these cases and then after some time I would be offered cases that were not as far away.

So, during this time in my career when I was driving from Buffalo to Farnham and North Collins, dreaming of closer assignments, I met Peter Talty.

Peter was one of those 'more seasoned' OTs who I imagined I was competing against for favorable home care referrals. He called on the recommendation of Kent Tigges who was a mutual friend and said to me, "So I hear you are interested in some work and Kent tells me that I should call you!"

I already knew who Peter was although I never met him - and I was nervous and excited that he would call and offer me a job! Now being a newbie and most certainly not being in a position to turn away work and being flattered to have Peter Talty call me and definitely wanting to show my best for my mentor Kent I listened to myself reply, "Sure... definitely!" even before asking for any other details.

I'll never forget meeting Peter in person for the first time and I will never forget the first question I asked: "So... where did I agree to work and what kind of work will I be doing???"

Peter didn't hesitate a second in his response - he delivered the news to me in the straightest of terms. He deadpanned, "You know when you are driving along a major road like the Thruway and there is an exit for a town you never heard of? Then you look over and all you see is trees and maybe a gas station sign? You might wonder what is over there if you took that Thruway exit. That is where we are going to go!!!"

I noticed that he said "we" and that surprised me a little - after all, most "seasoned" occupational therapists only worked in places that were geographically close to their homes. I quickly learned that although Peter was very experienced he was definitely not like "most" therapists.

Although Peter lived near the Buffalo area he went with me to set up and deliver occupational therapy services in very distant places all over Western NY. We went to nursing homes in Salamanca and Machias. We went to community rehabilitation programs in Olean. We went to a residential program for children who had developmental disabilities in Bradford, PA. I will also never forget how Peter gave me directions to find these places: "Keep driving down this road and you will see a place called 'The Cow Palace' on your right. Keep on going and take the right fork in the road after that - but it won't have a street sign." Peter's directions were legendary.

While thousands and thousands of miles ticked off my odometer I never minded it at all. Peter was an amazing role model and I quickly dropped my preconceived notions of how far experienced OTs should have to travel for work. Peter Talty went the extra mile.

He didn't just go the extra mile in physical distance - he did the same for me, for the COTAs we supervised, and for all those patients including every child who had an IEP along the old Route 17 between Randolph and Belmont. In places where there was no occupational therapy, in places where occupational therapy needed to be, Peter Talty made occupational therapy happen.

I also recall Peter's phone call to me asking if I was interested in teaching some lab sections at a college. By that time I knew enough to ask "where is this college where we will be going??" Of course he was referring to Keuka College - a two hour drive for us both - but it was another tremendous opportunity to watch Peter 'go the extra mile' in so many ways for hundreds of occupational therapy students over the years.

A year or so ago Peter called me and wanted to spend some time in my private practice. Watching him work again was another amazing reminder of what he brought to patients, how he listened to their stories, and most importantly how he helped them move forward with their own recovery.

Peter Talty is retiring from Keuka College this year and I can think of no better way of honoring him than telling this story of how much good you can create when you are willing to 'go the extra mile' as an occupational therapist.

Whenever I drive along a road and wonder what is over the treeline I think of how important it is to care. I also remember that Peter showed me that you also have to care enough to actually put yourself into action. Sometimes the people who need us the most will be in places where we haven't been before and where we never imagined ourselves being. His example is one I will always aspire to.

3 comments:

Katherine Collmer said...

This is an awesome tribute to your mentor and colleague. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Ashley Given said...

Very interesting to hear about occupational therapy education from personal experience.

Ashley

Ashley Given said...

Good article very interesting read from personal experince.
Ashley