Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advice for Life

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Sometimes our life's work isn't a choice; some careers find us. That's how it happened to me. I was grown and married and went to visit my widowed mother, who had a new boyfriend. I was not prepared for Phil and little did I know that he would change the course of my life.

When he walked into my life that day, I could not hide my horror: he didn't exactly walk so much as toddle. He was paralyzed on the right side of his body and wore an arm splint and a leg brace and depended on a metal cane. Seeing my discomfort he said, "O.K., let's get this out of the way. I caught some shrapnel in the head during WWII which left me aphasic and crippled. I had to learn to walk and talk again. I've survived this; so will you." And bang! We were onto the normal small talk of two people meeting for the first time. Phil told me about his profession: he was a speech-language pathologist, having gone back to college after lengthy rehabilitation at a V.A. hospital. He explained his work to me, as I had never heard of his field.

The short of it is: I was so impressed with this man and his work that when I went back to college, I changed my major from English to one that would prepare me to follow in Phil's foot steps. All through college, clinical practicums and finally the profession, Phil was there to offer encouragement and sometime stinging criticism. He taught me to observe, listen and know that I'm
not the star in that therapy room.

Once I telephoned Phil, telling him I had to take a day off to come talk to him in person. He didn't ask the reason, he just dropped everything to make time. I fought tears all the way to his and my mother's home (he was now my stepfather.) When I arrived we sat and talked over coffee. "Phil," I began, "Tell me how to have that
clinical distance everyone talks about; you know, to keep from being in all this pain. You see I have so many young men, on my caseload at the V.A. Hospital, who are so impaired. I'm always heartbroken."

He took a deep breath, looked out the window and then back to me, "
I can't tell you how to do that, but you go back to work and if you figure out how to do it, give me a call. Then I won't have another damn thing to do with you. Did I ever tell you this profession was fun or painless? I've seen health care professionals with that clinical distance you're talking about and they're no damn good to anybody."

So I learned to work around the pain, taking everybody home with me in my head and my heart every night, knowing that my pain was
not the star in the therapy room; that their pain was what mattered and had to be dealt with. I could only have learned this from a soldier who had been there.

Phil passed away several years ago knowing, he said, that he had left a legacy in the world. Thank you, Phil.


  1. Annie, that was very makes me appreciate my own aging step father that much more.

    I've enjoyed your blogs...and appreciate the translations you do for "A Heart in Provence"

    Maryanne at Beadboard UpCountry said I should get in touch with you for information about blogging...she said you might know where there are classes on the how-to's and rules of etiquette for blogging...I'm in Brenham

  2. Hi Terri,

    Thank you so much for the kind words.

    The class I took at "Leisure Learning" was not in their latest listing. So I would recommend using Google's Blogger at This site will walk you through buying your domain name ($10.00) and setting up a blog (free setup and free hosting.) From the Google site, I recommend downloading Picassa 3 for organizing and blogging with photos. Maryanne can advise you on cameras if you need that. The book, "Publishing a Blog with Blogger," by Elizabeth Castro was helpful, even though blogger has changed since she wrote the book. On U-Tube you can Google "blogger" and "Picassa" and find some good training videos. e-mail me anytime at if you have questions.

    Good luck!

    P.S. Google is going through a lot of organizational changes (layoffs, etc.) so who knows what their services will look like in a few months. But I still recommend them for simplicity. They have been great for a non-technical person such as I.