by twang, October 17, 2017
The value of Physical Therapists really listening to their patient’s’ story in very rushed and hurried world….
October 11, 2017 By Tabitha Wang
If you’ve never had the good fortune of meeting Beate, please let me tell you, you’re missing out. In a BIG way.
When I was thinking of what to title this blog post, I thought “Beate Carriere: Physical Therapist Extraordinaire.” Although it’s true, it falls short. It just didn’t encompass the entirety of Beate. She’s amazingly talented at her job and is often called a “miracle worker” by our PTs and patients. But more than just her unique skill to heal, she is sweet caring, brilliant, stubborn, funny, blunt, and compassionate. She is the type of person that would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.
Far Left: Beate, in Armenia during a medical missions providing treatment and education.
Back from her annual pilgrimage to her childhood home in Lubeck, Germany, Beate is hard to track down. Her schedule is already filling. In a rare moment of a patient cancelling I’m racing up the stairs, balancing laptop, charger, and cell phone in hands, trying to catch her before she leaves on lunch or engages in one of her epic story telling conversations with another co-worker.
“Hey, Beate!”, I say trying to not sound out of breathe. (Stairs are not my friend.) “I was wondering if I could interview you for our Evergreen blog. A sort of get-to-know-your-therapist type of thing. I know you’re probably swamped, but I want to catch you before you go.”
“Yeah, yeah sure come in,” she says in her unmistakable German accent and waves me into her small, yet cozy, private treatment room. As I walk in and set up my phone to record, she picks up her bag and rummages through pulling out a homemade sandwich of freshly baked, dark bread and a pungent cheese. “Oh, I need to give this to Liz. Give me one second,” she says as she darts out the door. Beate brings a sandwich every day for one of our co-workers. Just one of the many awesome things she does. Only after delivering the sandwich does she laughingly realize she has forgotten her own sandwich at home, but she doesn’t show a moment of regret as she asks, “Do you mind if I lay down? Like at the therapist’s office?”. She chuckles as she gestures to the treatment table and settles in. “Sure!”, I say getting a little nervous to capture a snapshot of a short biography of a legendary physical therapist and human being.
As she stretches out, placing her hands behind her head I feel myself relax. I start out by asking the obligatory question, “What first sparked your interest in Physical Therapy?”.
It only takes a split second of thought before Beate launches into her story, painting a picture of growing up in a hospital in post-war Germany where her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse. Nine years of her childhood was spent in and around the hospital, so “sick people were [her] normal life.” She had no interest in dolls as a child, because there was nothing wrong with them. “I thought they were boring…you couldn’t fix their arm, you couldn’t fix their leg”, she explains while relating how living in that environment gave her the chance to learn about how the human body works and spurred her budding interest in the medical field.
Even more amazing than the circumstances in which she grew up, is Beate’s journey to becoming a PT. Which, to some, may seem a little unorthodox considering Beate’s wealth of knowledge and expertise. All throughout her primary and secondary school education, Beate struggled with dyslexia. Although she was a smart and an extremely eager student, dyslexia painted a decidedly different picture of her aptitude. It would sometimes earn her D’s in subjects like French and English that she would otherwise excel in and gave her a distaste for school. Despite these setbacks and initial failures, her hunger and passion for learning continued. She became an au pair in France in order to better learn the language and give her a chance to see the world. She even began taking Spanish classes just because she “…wanted to learn Spanish, you know?” Seemingly, everything is as simple as that to Beate. She wanted to learn a language? Explore the world? Pursue a career? It was done and so it was with Physical Therapy. At the young age of 18, when most people were battling high school senioritis, Beate was entering a university in the Schwarzwald (that’s the Black Forest, for those of us who have never had the passion to learn five languages like Beate) to study Physical Therapy.
At the time Beate began studying, Physical Therapy itself was still a young area of study and research. “Everything was empiric. So, empiric is the opposite of evidenced based. We had no references in books and only had the [very] first books for studying in Physical Therapy. And so we learned more [sic] to listen to the patient and figure out what was wrong. They (her instructors) learned to help and tried it with other patients and that’s how they learned and then wrote a book and much much later they said, ‘Oh, that’s what they did. They stimulated an efferons.’ The explanation, I found much later, yeah, but intuitively they figured it out.”
“I think I’m not doing miracles, but I ask different questions…”
“I think I’m not doing miracles, but I ask different questions…I feel like I have become a problem solver. You see that here that they say [sic], ‘Oh, this is too complicated, I send [sic] the patient to you.’ Haha, yeah I get that a lot.” I think it means they don’t have enough time to listen or to know what questions to ask.
I ask her what the best part of being a PT is and she immediately says, “Well I think, first of all, it’s the profession which is like ten different professions. So I just always find new stimulating work…[and] I feel I can make a difference.”
And when I ask her if she has any hobbies outside of work she gives me a wry smile and says “Oh, I like hiking, I do what comes in my way…traveling of course…I make jewelry…I learned silversmithing…but I also like working in the garden. I need a ten step program in how to be lazy or do nothing. I don’t know how to do that. Haha. You know, I think I’m not doing so many crazy things anymore. Like I wouldn’t do bungee jumping you know, but I still like to try things and explore.”
When it comes down to the end of the interview, I’m searching for that last little nugget of wisdom I can pry from her. “What is the best advice you have for PTs or people who want to become a PT?”, I ask. “The best advice is to listen to your patient. I have a teacher who said, ‘If you don’t listen to the patient, they won’t tell you anything anymore.’ I always look for the ghost in the closet, [the thing] that caused this. Like I had a patient that 36 years ago fell out of a window, but all it said in the medical chart of past history was ankle fracture and he wouldn’t tell anyone about it anymore, because the doctor said, “Oh, it has nothing to do with your pain”. But then he said it [to me], and then I said, oh now I understand, and [now] he’s all better. So you have to listen to the patient and be open and always look at what’s above and below because the cause doesn’t necessarily come from the same place as the pain.” In the march toward evidence based practice the fear Beate has is that we stop listening or asking probing questions. With over 50 years of “empiric” evidence Beate’s miracles are easily understood.
Beate practicing Physical Therapy in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1968.
Beate on the far left in Iceland 1969.
Beate and her brother growing up on the grounds of a Hospital where her father was a physician.