the best gift ever…
As the year winds down, most of us are busy with holiday business. Whether you’ve prepared for Santa, Kwanzaa, or the Festival of Lights, these last few weeks of the year carry with them a different energy and excitement than most other times of the year. It’s a fun time, a celebratory time, a time when most people’s smiles seem a little brighter and even a little easier to find. It may also be a time for reflection and resolution; to acknowledge previous weaknesses and shortcomings and resolve to improve yourself and situation as the calendar flips to a new set of downs.
As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I tend to be pretty hard myself. My personal standards are set very high, and what is considered ‘good enough’ for others, for me personally, just falls short when evaluating my own performance. It’s a quality within me that’s certainly evolved over time, and as I get older, the need to do my best at every moment is surpassed only by the constant awareness of any opportunity to utilize my skills to help another in the Vision Therapy room. Both are qualities that motivate me to be better tomorrow than I was today. Holding high standards for oneself can be a double edged sword though. The very same desire that drives the need for the utmost quality output can also be the force that buries you when trying to manage a failure. My dear friend Linda Sanet used to remind me that ‘failure is just another opportunity to learn’. Her words were not lost on me, and to be honest, those have become words to live by in my world. This afternoon offered a reminder though that sometimes just being mentally present, offering a smile, and showing the patient how important they are is what means the most.
My last patient of the afternoon was a 5 year old boy with Down Syndrome, we’ll call him Ricky. I met him a few years ago while working in Houston and saw him for four or five visits before my move to Austin. Ricky was non-verbal, but loved anything that made noise. He especially loved to laugh. We bonded instantly. As luck would have it, Ricky and his family themselves moved to Austin late this past summer and looked me up. It had been two years, almost to the day, since our last encounter when they visited our office. Since he was so young at the time of our last visit, chances were good that Ricky wouldn’t remember me…or so I thought. As they entered the reception area for the first time, Ricky’s dad and I shared a smile as if we were old friends. And Ricky, well, he just wanted a hug. Since that day, Ricky has been coming once or twice a week for Vision Therapy. Since he’s non-verbal and very wound up, some days are productive and some days are not. He laughs, he cries, he yells, he throws things and we have a great time! Working with Ricky is similar to what I imagine riding a surf board through a tornado might be like. He is everywhere, he is interested in everything, and although he’s considered non-verbal he yells anytime he’s happy, which is a lot.
Still, I am so grateful for him and his parents trust in us, but often times I wonder if we are actually helping Ricky. Not because he’s not making progress, because he definitely is; but I wonder if there’s something I personally could have done better to make the session a bit more manageable or productive. His dad, who is about my age, must see this emotion on my face from time to time because he often pats me on the back and offers thanks, both for my efforts, and his son’s continued progress.
Lately, Ricky has also been enrolled with a new Speech and Language Therapist and he apparently has been very responsive. His sounds are forming, and although his words are few and far between, he does muster a well-timed ‘no’ every time I pull out an activity that doesn’t involve the trampoline or Nerf soccer ball. Because Ricky is non-verbal, at times it can be difficult to gauge the impact we’re having from day to day, but I’m always happy to see him and always try to give him my best effort. Although his sessions can be among the most challenging of my week, he is a total joy. We both have learned to communicate with each other through laughter, listening (he is a great listener if you’re creative) and demonstration. Today as I was walking him to his dad in the reception area, Ricky motioned for me to bend down in the hallway. As I took a knee, this little boy who I’ve worked so hard for, hugged me and very slowly and deliberately said the words ‘thank you’.
I could give you 100 reasons why Ricky’s VT session went poorly today, but he had the wisdom to see that my being there for him was what really meant the most. Without a doubt, that was the best gift anyone could have offered me this holiday season. 🙂