Physio Talks

Parental Love Does not Depend on Income
My years as a pediatric PT brought me into contact with every sort of family situation including income status. I also had the privilege of working in many settings while assisting children and their families with the children’s developmental problems. I used that experience to make a point to the physio classes I taught that seems to have stuck with them over time, the fact that how much a parent loves a child has nothing to do with how much money the parent makes.
This fact was brought home to me by the attitudes of the staff at an outpatient clinic at the Medical College of Georgia Hospitals where I consulted to their clinic for disabled children. I frequently saw the staff speaking to the parents of disabled children as if they were either expected to be disinterested parents or just stupid. These parents were all of lower income status, which is why they used this clinic; i.e. it was free and used by the University for training new professionals. Some training! The body language and often the verbalizations coming from the professionals or trainees said quite clearly that the assumptions were 1. The parents were not likely to attend subsequent scheduled visits, 2. That the parents were not likely to carry out the recommendations of the clinic, 3. The parents could not understand the basics of the children’s problems therefore the interventions were likely to be useless.
I realized these conclusions because I was usually the one to follow up the interview with the parents, some of whom I knew, and my first question was usually “Do you have any questions about the results of the visit?” They almost always did, asked penetrating questions (in their own vernacular) and made comments about the difficulties of using public transportation with a handicapped child, that they had difficulty getting off work to attend the clinic – usually lasting most of the day- and that the words used by the professionals were not familiar to them. They were often desperate to find ways to make their children better, but with minimal resources and time available they felt overwhelmed much of the time.
And it does not just occur in developed countries. When I was using my Public Health credentials in Africa I was involved in training sessions at outlying clinics for children under five. I trained staff and helped to organize immunizations, nutrition assistance and other activities associated with helping well child clinics across the country. At one visit I accompanied my boss, who was the paediatrician in charge of Maternal and Child Health for Malawi, and her first assistant who was a Malawian medial officer. During the training session for the local workers, someone came to the paediatrician and mentioned that there were parents outside who had a sick child, about 5 0r 6 years old. The paediatrician completed the training session and we began to leave for the vehicle and the trip back to town when the medical officer came up and said he thought the paediatrician should take a look at the child, who had been forgotten in the rush of activities. The child was obviously very ill with laboured breathing, and the paediatrician hurriedly loaded us all in the land rover for the trip to the hospital. Along the way the medical officer, in the rear with the family and child, said we should pull over, and he confirmed the child had died. The father was holding the child, and he knew already the child had passed away. He was sitting quietly, holding the child, with tears streaming down his face, and the mother, when the medical officer confirmed the death, began wailing. I will never forget that scene, as long as I live, quiet crying father and keening mother. To this family, the people attending the clinic at the hospital were like kings and queens in income comparison, but that was still no barrier to how much they loved their child who had just died. Love is not income dependent.

Dave Rohe is a recently retired physio having practiced in New Zealand since 2004. He originally qualified in the USA, subsequently practicing in Malawi, Egypt and Cambodia prior to emigrating to New Zealand in 2003. He has enjoyed management positions in pediatric and adult outpatient facilities as well as taught physiotherapy for 15 years at the University of Georgia. He is currently living in Parakai with his wife, Sharon Robinson, a local midwife, near his adult children who are working, and one of whom is studying to qualify as a physio through the programme at the University of Otago. His articles previously appeared in local newspapers in Taranaki and on the blog site sponsored by NZSPT.

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