We walked into his house-or rather, we walked under his roof as there were no walls surrounding the structure. Inside, a harsh man who had suffered from a stroke, the painful process of losing his wife, addiction, and a lifetime of poverty, sat in his wheelchair in the heat of day. There was hardly room to maneuver for him as every cubic meter of space was filled with items appearing untouched for years. Finding ourselves so far outside of our element in this foreign environment, we used the tools at our disposal: our clinical instructor and translator, Dr. Pakaratee, some fine-tuned (certainly not awkward) body language, and our wits to provide this man physical therapy. As we carried on, the shock wore off, and the treatment session remarkably gained a sense of normalcy. We practiced gait, like in the States, to ambulate to the toilet next to the chicken coop inside the attached house. We educated him in his home exercise program, as we would, sticking a detailed stick figure illustration drawn on wrapping paper onto his wall. When we left, he bowed and said something later translated to us as “Thank you, my children.”
This summer, I traveled to Thailand with three fellow students and a professor to spend three weeks exploring physical therapy there. The most persistent question asked from my colleagues upon return was, “How was PT different?” All I could answer was how similar it was. Of course, I could create a lengthy list describing the discrepancies between their practice and ours, but the base of it is so recognizable and obvious it makes me question why I expected much else.
We experienced treatments with a myriad of clients with a wide variety of issues within a large spectrum of settings ranging from individual houses to Siriraj Hospital which, with its multiple skyscrapers, took on the appearance of a city. Everywhere we went throughout our stay, we saw the type of patient care defining our profession. We witnessed so many therapists who possessed immense passion and knowledge of the field. Therapists whose work embodied the spirit of the phrase “Exercise is Medicine.” They applied that passion and knowledge with a care and kindness we are known for in America.
It was so clearly apparent not only to us, but also to the patients and their practitioners. With the kind of people drawn to our profession, why would it matter, the country we are in?