I went home one afternoon, disturbed by the status of a new patient whom I evaluated and treated earlier during the day. She said she was seen by a therapist from another clinic for the last six weeks for her orthopedic-related symptoms and dysfunctions; however, she did not see any progress with her therapy. This was surprising since her former physical therapist was a well-known pediatric neuro specialist in our area. I wondered what this therapist could and should have done for the patient.
As I arrived home and stepped out of my car, I was greeted by a seemingly angry bird, swooping toward me. I frantically ran toward the house for safety, reminiscent of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” What could have angered this bird?
Then I recalled that, as I left for work that morning, I noticed a baby bird which I thought had fallen from its nest. I had observed this chick and its siblings. They had hatched several weeks ago, were fed by their parents, and then one by one began to disappear from the nest, with the exception of this last chick that was left behind.
Upon seeing the chick on the ground, my PT instinct kicked in. I picked up the chick with the intent of assessing if it had sustained any injury. As soon as I picked it up, I heard a screeching noise from a nearby tree, followed by a bird that flew toward me. Panicking, I ran back to the house with the chick. Before leaving for work, I did my “PTish” evaluation of the baby bird: checked its wings’ range of motion, palpated for any tenderness and unusual bumps on its trunk, observed its hopping motions. After my assessment, I proceeded to demonstrate to the chick how to spread its wings and flap them for flight via rhythmic initiation. Before leaving for work, I left the bird in my bathtub, supplied it with water and some bread crumbs.
I already had forgotten about this incident until I was greeted by the angry bird that afternoon. Nevertheless, I did what I thought was right. I released the chick back to his parents or risk being attacked again whenever I leave the house.
A few hours later, I witnessed the most interesting occurrence in the avian world: the parent bird was standing and chirping next to the chick, as if conversing with it. Then she ran away from the chick, flapping her wings and slightly lifting her feet off the ground. After running for a few feet, she then turned around and screeched at the baby bird. The baby bird imitated his “trainer.” This went on for several days along my driveway until I never saw the two birds again. I assumed the baby bird eventually learned how to fly.
This experience provided me the answer to my question as to what the pediatric neuro therapist could and should have done for the patient whom he saw for six weeks. The experience also taught me two lessons that I share with my current students.
Lesson 1: If you do not have the expertise or skill set to address a patient’s needs, refer the patient to someone who does. I understand that the parent bird had protective instincts and it knew that I did not have the ability to teach its baby how to fly. The patient should have been referred from the start if a therapist knows he or she does not have the skills or expertise to treat or address the patients’ needs.
Lesson 2: Vigilance and persistence pays off. For the parent bird to reclaim the chick, it waited for hours and greeted me with fury. I was perceived as an intruder and a threat to both of them. If we can demonstrate such vigilance and persistence, we can strongly protect our profession from encroachment by other practitioners — those who attempt to intrude and threaten our practice and existence as therapists.
The following year, the same nest was occupied by a bird and her babies. I am not sure if it is the same bird that attacked me the year before or the baby bird that already has grown and become a parent. However, now I know better to not intervene and get in the way of their “flight training.”
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