A brilliant Fall afternoon in Charlottesville, the booms of a cannon marking each touchdown scored at the football stadium nearby. Yesterday, I dared my first aquatic therapy session with a stroke patient, in the therapy pool at the new UVA-Healthsouth Rehabilitation Center down the street, where I work as an occupational therapist. It was fun. Seemed to help. Tomorrow my pregnant wife Chris and I will take our toddler son Nick up Carter Mountain for apples and cider donuts, the first visit of what will become an annual rite. But today I’m attempting yet another new adventure, delivering my first ever speech at a professional conference, on this topic that I’m just beginning to understand myself, How Activities of Daily Living can Inform and Improve Rehabilitation for People with Brain Injury.
It seems to go well, at least nobody gets up and leaves before I’m done. Then as I collect my slides from the projector, one by one, and slot them back in their folder, a professorial looking guy in a tie and jacket comes up, asking a question that for me became fateful words, “Have you ever thought about teaching?”
In the twenty-something years since that first talk, I’ve gone back to school for a PhD, taught a generation of OT students, delivered countless lectures, workshops and seminars in 32 states and six foreign countries, conducted ground-breaking research on the use of mobile devices and smart homes for people with cognitive-behavioral challenges, founded and directed a novel community reentry program for brain injury, and served on the usual professional and foundation boards. Al Copolillo, that guy who asked the fateful question, is a friend and colleague. For two decades we were the lone males on a staff of talented women in the OT department at VCU. He lives nearby now, retired from a sterling career, and today I happily – one might say giddily — join him.
This past year’s covid-related challenges have played havoc (this is VCU, of course, where havoc is a basketball cheer) with clinical education. How do you teach a student to splint a hand, transfer a patient, ultrasound a wound, or repair a wheelchair when you’re not allowed to touch anybody? We figured it out, lecturing on Zoom, finagling the hands-on labs in masks and goggles, but today thanks to new guidance from the powers that be, I’m turning off my computer, and meeting the students in my stroke seminar at Byrd Park, maskless outdoors, to sum up the semester, wish them well, share some homemade cookies, and leave them to their own careers that I can only hope will spawn memories as full as mine. So much to reflect on, to be grateful for, here at the cusp of what friends call “the next chapter.” Indeed.