PLAYING THROUGH

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.


          The foursome just ahead of us parked their carts on the other side of a tree well left of the fairway and called for my son and I to play through.

          I don't play much, and I don't put any real time into getting any better. Instead, I depend upon my natural athletic ability and my experience watching others hit golf shots on TV to guide me around the course. I guess you could say the results are predictable.

          So, I teed up the ball, set myself like Tiger, tried to remember something about rhythm I'd heard on the Golf Channel and whacked away. It sounded a little funny but, I thought, at least I hadn't whiffed. I watched it lift and then, as if pulled magnetically, head directly toward the four men who had been so gracious to me only moments before. Hollering "Fore!" was probably not necessary but I did it anyway. I may not be much of a player, but at least I can follow the rules.

          I've been thinking lately about the mistakes I make in the clinic and how they surprise and frustrate me as much as that errant shot. Early in my career they would include pushing people manually in ways that made their complaint worse, but once I altered my technique of care, that problem pretty much disappeared. Still, there remain moments in the clinic where I feel as foolish as I did after making those men scatter and duck. Of course, I could see quickly that this was really pretty funny, and I know that other golfers are pretty forgiving of such things.

          But in the clinic my mistakes are most likely to come in the form of comments that always land directly on the patient, and it's hard to warn them before the sound of my voice arrives. I've rarely found my patients to be as understanding as others on the golf course.

          I'm most likely to say the wrong thing when a patient indicates that my opinion is worth no more than that of anyone else's. After I've given them a careful explanation of the problem and a plan of care they might shrug and comment that they "hope" I'm right and they might as well try this since nothing else has worked.

          Faced with this, I can feel a part of me rise to speak that tends toward sarcasm and sharply worded opinion. It doesn't take into account the patient's pain and frustration.

          Over the years I'm certain that my errant comments have been reduced in frequency, and I'm far less likely to think that the patient was asking for it, although I know that this can happen. In my maturity I can stand back after such a disaster and contemplate how difficult a job I sometimes have. I'm better at it each day, but I'll never be perfect.

          I know that the only way to completely avoid shanking a golf shot is to never swing at the ball, and the same could be said of clinical error.

          Our work exposes so much of us, and acknowledging the less therapeutic parts and accepting their presence is the best way to grow as a therapist.

          I walked toward the men on the course and we all laughed about my shot. My next one was a beauty. Together they made the whole round worthwhile.