Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The hands of a pediatric occupational therapist

When I get home from work I have things to do, like everyone else, and sometimes those things make my hands dirty.  Sometimes it is some minor maintenance on my car, or repairing something in the house, or doing a little gardening.  I know that I have to scrub my hands clean after these activities so that there is no evidence of dirt or paint or grease.  I keep my fingernails very short for precisely this reason.

What would I tell a parent the next day - that I have the residual stain of grease on my hands because I was elbow deep into my engine compartment the night before?  I suspect that most parents would understand, but it would not feel comfortable.  If you work on cars or paint a room you know how difficult it is to remove all traces of those occupations from your hands.

Cultural stereotypes abound surrounding the nature of a person's hands.  We even have idiomatic language about 'getting your hands dirty.'  This is a positive concept that means someone is not afraid to engage something or to work on something 'hard.'  Oddly, we have an opposing idiom about 'keeping your hands clean' which is supposed to be a positive attribute also.  I find it interesting that we have developed language with opposing analogies that are both meant to reflect something positive.

I guess I try to keep my hands clean, but I am not afraid to get them dirty when it is required.

My hands get 'dirty' in my job as an occupational therapist also.  A parent came in this morning and as I joyfully picked up her two year old into my arms she looked at my hands, which were undeniably marked by my occupations earlier in the morning.  "Looks like you have been doing some coloring with markers today, Dr. Chris!" she said with a smile.  There was no concern that my hands were 'dirty' because every mom knows that even the so-called water soluble markers don't come off in one scrubbing.

I guess that people ascribe meanings to things based on their perceptions.  The marker on my hands was a sign to this mom that I was elbow deep in trying to help some child learn how to write, and that made her smile.  It is a different kind of engagement than working on my car or in my garden, which might not have been met with a smile, even though my hands would have been no less 'clean.'

I guess there will come a day when I will no longer have marker all over my hands.  Someday I will not have to be so cognizant about how my hands look.  But today it is still a badge of engagement and I will wear it with honor.  I am a pediatric occupational therapist, and this is what my hands look like every day.

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