Surviving the cold and flu season

March 01, 2018

Working Through the Sick Season

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

Who else is ready for this winter season to be over? Not just from the standpoint of the weather, but also because the number of illnesses that are going around is crazy. It has really posed some challenges to many people’s home, work and school lives! As therapists, we are all at a different point in our careers. Many are just starting off in our first year trying to learn the ropes and use all the knowledge we gained in school, while some of us have been carrying the title of therapist for years. Whether you are a speech, occupational or physical therapist, you play an important role on a team. As a therapist, you are expected and needed at your job, regardless of what environment you treat in. Your input is needed to help guide your students or patients through their treatment plan. And “being there” actually means you need to be committed.

For those of us who have been doing this for many years, we find that our lives have changed drastically from when we first got out of school. Many of us have gotten married, had children, changed jobs, fought through health issues—whatever it may be, these experiences have also helped shape us into the therapist we are today. But we have found that many of these life experiences sometimes pose hurdles for us getting ourselves into our job, or maybe make it difficult to perform our daily work obligations.

For me, I have taken the journey of getting married and having children from when I first started as a therapist. With each of these life additions came a new way to carry out my role as a therapist. I have had the luxury of being able to balance my work life with my home life, often by working only one to two days a week, and more recently performing most of my work through contracted services. This has allowed me the flexibility to make my own hours, determine my work load, as well as fulfill my role at home. Some days, I feel as if I am a better therapist because I carry the title of “Mom.” However, as I sit here today, after five straight weeks of illness in my house and multiple days of playing calendar roulette to ensure I was fulfilling all my work duties as a therapist, I feel torn and worn out.

Yes, being a pediatric therapist is great from the standpoint that most environments and families I work with understand that “life” happens. I mean, we see it as therapists: Kids get sick, schedules get overbooked, someone has an “off” day. But it still does not lessen the anxiety that comes from being torn between needing to take care of a sick child and making sure a student or patient is not having a therapy session cancelled again. So, what are some tips for combating multiple life happenings?

  • Be up-front and honest with whatever the situation is, without sharing what you don’t want to personally. 

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure, when you can, you are eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and treating illnesses as they pop up. This will only help you be more alert and ready to be with your patients.

  • Be present. That means, when you are at work, be there for the duration that you need to be, and when at home, be present to what needs attention.

  • Wash hands frequently.

  • Do not go to work when you are sick. There is no need to spread germs to your students or patients.

  • Try to have a flexible backup plan. Since most environments are flexible, offering someone different session days or times may be helpful.

  • We know we all have to multitask. If you have to do paperwork at home, set boundaries; meaning, give yourself 30-minute chunks to work, then attend to the household duties. This will help you focus and be present.

    I definitely know I am not alone with some of these battles—it comes with the territory, and we all know how it feels. And although this is all stuff we know and have heard before…sometimes just being reminded helps. So here’s to beating these winter illnesses!