One Day in the Life of a Pediatric PT During Covid-19 (copy)
Masks go on before entering the building. Daily temperature checks and monitoring of symptoms must be documented before starting my day. I gather my sanitizer, extra mask and disinfecting wipes, and head to my “space” for the day.
The incredible sensory gym that was once filled with swinging and bouncing kiddos is now quiet, desolate, sterile. I wait for parents and children to be screened before being passed over to me for hand washing and entering the building while socially distancing from all others entering at the same time. It is a daunting and repetitive process, but it is worthwhile. These changes are necessary in order to protect patients and staff alike. Space and equipment are limited to avoid contamination and time needed to clean throughout the day. I must be creative and flexible. I am always creative and flexible, I am a pediatric therapist, but this is different. Less equipment, less contact, frequent schedule changes, constant policy and procedural changes, moving between in-person and telehealth services hour-by-hour, more thinking outside of the box than I have ever been challenged to do, more exhaustion than I have ever felt.
Some families have only been seen via telehealth since March. I miss them. I miss giving them high-fives and hugs and celebrating with them as they progress through their goals. I miss putting my hands on them to facilitate movement and achieve results before my eyes. Instead, I now patiently teach parents to do what my hands were trained to do, to see what I am an expert at looking for, to respond and react how I would typically respond and react in person. I have learned ways to teach parents how to transform everyday objects into obstacles courses, target practice, and various means of play-based strengthening. Again, my creativity has been challenged beyond words. Parents are required to also be therapists and teachers now, and we are learning together how best to encourage and support their kiddos. This process has been emotionally and financially hard on my families, and I see it every day in many ways. I must be there for them in more ways than ever; I might be their only sense of “normalcy” in this “new normal”.
My typical day bounces between seeing a patient in our gym and seeing a patient on my laptop. I wear a mask all day: during assessments, during yoga, during bike riding in 90-degree heat, during stretching, during parent education; it never comes off no matter how hot or how tired of it I become. The mask creates both a layer of protection as well as a giant hurdle to overcome. Due to the challenge of not being able to see my face (and often me not seeing theirs) I can no longer show my kiddos I am smiling to help ease their fears during novel and difficult tasks. I have had to learn to significantly adjust my communication to the children by using more words of encouragement and gestures of excitement vs simple facial expressions. Some of my patients wear a mask during their treatments, as well. I have been shockingly amazed by how many kiddos, even those with sensory processing disorders, tolerate them so wonderfully. I clean me, I clean the kiddos, I clean the equipment we use. Me protecting my patients is my #1 priority. I use my downtime, if I have any, to learn. This may mean learning new methods of delivery for the treatment interventions I was utilizing pre-pandemic, learning new treatment protocols, and discovering and implementing new online platforms that allow me to provide my skilled services to the families who are now further from my reach. Every busy day goes by quickly and very methodically. Our clinic has many systems in place to protect not only our staff, but every patient and every caregiver that walks through our door, and I flow through them now like a well-oiled machine. I thrive on seeing my kiddos succeed, so these precautions and extra steps, though stressful, exhausting, and challenging, are worth it. I make the best of these unprecedented times because I have hope for these kids.
At the end of the day, I go home and safely change clothing and disinfect myself for the millionth time before entering my house and being around my own family. I shower off the stress and exhaustion of the day, let go of my anxiety and fears, and remember the lives I impacted, the children I helped, and now, even more so, the families I empowered.
Danielle Thiessen, PT, DPT
Lead Physical Therapist – Pediatric Therapy Center