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5 Things I Learned Observing in a Level 1 Trauma Center Hospital

Just a couple of days ago I had the amazing opportunity to job shadow a physical therapist at St.Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, which has a Level 1 Trauma Center. Throughout the day I was fortunate enough to observe the ins and outs of the hospital's orthopedics and trauma units alongside the therapist. Although I already had some experience volunteering and observing in a hospital, you never know what you are going to see when you walk in those doors. From the nearly 9 hours I spent in the hospital that day, I came out with a new perspective on life. Here are the 5 major takeaways that I got from my day of job shadowing:

Put your problems into perspective

Everyone has problems. Everyone has issues. Everyone has bad days. I am not going to discount anybody’s problems, but my experience at the hospital allowed me to gain a little more perspective on my life. Sometimes we do so much complaining, or get so annoyed with minor things that we fail to be grateful for things in our life that we have. Annoyance and anger are natural emotions, but we just have to recognize that the problems that we face might not be as bad as we think it is in the moment. There are people who are going through things that alter their lives completely. During my day of observation I saw people who will never be able to live without additional assistance from a caretaker for the rest of their lives, I saw people who may never remember their own family again, I saw people who lost loved ones and who had nobody who cared enough about them to go visit them at the hospital.

So the next time I get cut off on the way to work, I drop a glass, get an annoying muscle strain, etc. I will try not to let it ruin my day. I realize that I am blessed to be where I am at right now, no matter what gets thrown my way. I'll think back to my experience at the hospital, and think about the people who are in much worse situations that I am in. I hope that this post also gives you some perspective as well. I hope that it leads to discussion (whether it may be internal or external) and makes us ask a few important questions. How can we demonstrate more gratitude? Why do we allow minor inconveniences and annoyances to ruin our days when there are bigger problems we could be facing? What can we do to be more forgiving and less tough on ourselves and others?

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Most of the patients I saw with the PT worth post-operation orthopedic patients. While I can't give specifics of each patient (HIPAA compliance), I can say that a majority of the patients were severely obese. Obesity is one of the biggest issues in the United States right now, and it is not just a health issue. It is also an economic issue, a national security issue, and a quality of life issue, just to name a few. My observation of these patients led me to the conclusion that obesity and sedentary behavior prior to a surgery led to a longer and more grueling recovery than those who were not obese.

And it doesn't just have to do with obesity. The patients that I saw who lived sedentary lives also had a tougher recovery than those who were active prior to their surgery. I am assuming this has to do with the lack of muscle, decreased bone density, and inadequate blood flow to injured areas. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: exercise is medicine.

One patient who I saw was 91 years old, had a total hip replacement, and had to undergo kidney dialysis for multiple hours before we saw him for physical therapy. This process is exhausting to the patient, yet this patient moved better than most of the other patients I saw that day even though they were all mostly 30-60 years younger than him. He was even in a noticeably better mood than them too! His secret? Regular physical activity and a well balanced diet. It's really that simple! I may not be a doctor (yet), but I will always prescribe exercise to everyone!

So if you're looking to start exercising find the right program for you, or fill out my quick questionnaire so that we can talk about your options for getting started with your fitness journey.

Drink responsibly or don't drink at all

Another common characteristic of a lot of trauma patients I saw was the involvement of alcohol in their injuries. Whether it was a drunk driving incident, a drunk altercation, or something else, alcohol seemed to be involved in some way or another for a lot of the patients I saw. Alcohol is not good for you. In moderation it's not terrible, but as a general rule of thumb it's not good for you. I've heard people say, "Well, your liver regenerates so it's fine!" What about the rest of your body? Check out this very interesting article on ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN. It's from 2004, but nearly all of the information remains true to this day.

If you're going to drink, drink responsibly. Avoid binge drinking, drinking around unfamiliar or dangerous areas, and especially around people you don't get along with. One lapse in judgement while intoxicated could change your life for the worse in an instant. One of the patient's I saw fell down the stairs while intoxicated and can't remember anything about his past, not even his own name. Make good, healthy decisions!

Empathy and optimism go a long way

On a lighter note, I was fortunate enough to shadow one of the nicest physical therapists I've ever met. She was incredibly passionate about her job, and loved working in acute care. From observing her I learned that being empathetic and optimistic around people is much more rewarding to them and to you than doing it any other way.

You never know what someone is going through or what is going on in their head unless they tell you honestly. Even then they may not give you the whole truth or their story in its entirety. To be empathetic is to put yourself in someone else's shoes and try and understand their perspective. To be empathetic is to care, and that caring is contagious. Optimism is the same. When I say optimism I don't necessarily mean super bubbly/fake smile type of optimism. I mean genuinely smiling, and looking for the positives in every situation. You can brighten someone else's day, and build strong relationships with the qualities of empathy and optimism.

Healthcare workers are superheros

The last major takeaway that I received from my experience at the hospital is that healthcare workers are true superheros. I mean, truly, they are. During my day we were on hour feet for no less than 7 out of the almost 9 hours I was there, walking from room to room, helping lift and transfer patients, and carrying physical therapy equipment with us. When we weren't on our feet the PT was filling out paperwork and logging her plan of action in a computer database for the team of doctors, therapists, nurses, insurance companies, etc. to see and follow. We interacted with confused and erratic patients, annoyed family members, and other exhausted healthcare workers. Yet during that entire day, all of the health professionals in that hospital cared for each patient with compassion and empathy. I realize that healthcare workers have received a lot of recognition lately due to COVID, but they deserve recognition and praise all the time. They are real-life superheros!

So to conclude this article, make sure to think empathetically and compassionately about others. Make sure to put your challenges in perspective, because most of our problems aren't as bad as they may seem. And make sure to live a healthy lifestyle, so that you can live a long, high-quality life.


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