The ultimate teachable moment… Don’t let it pass you by…

I can’t tell you enough about teachable moments and seizing them better yet, creating them. The thing is, you first have to recognize it for what it is, because you can not plan for them. You can hope for them to happen, set up the environment, the activity and you hope for the best. So then how do you find them, you ask. You listen. Not just hear words but genuinely ask questions and provide a trail and then listen. When you hear it, you will know.

When I was starting out as an Occupational Therapist, I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. I had the answers to help people and it felt good. The individuals I worked with generally had acquired disabilities and they typically left in pretty good shape. One morning, about six months after starting my career, I met a lovely lady. Her chart said she had had a fall and so the thought was that she would quickly be merrily on her way. Buried in the chart was another diagnosis that I had not heard of. My co-worker, her assigned Physical Therapist had not heard of it either, so we looked it up. It was a rare blood disorder.

During the evaluation, I struggled with finding something to help this lady move forward. She had been living in her own and needed some conditioning and maybe to check her safety with heavier household tasks, but not much. I kept digging and listening. Then she said it. She was not able to put on her own shoes and socks. Apparently, when she bent over, she would lose her breath, so she struggled or merely used slip on shoes ( toe only sorts of shoes which are not great for fall prevention!). I said, I can help you with that! Instead of waiting for tomorrow’s session, I showed her how to use a long handled shoe horn and a sock aid, and we did it together. She went back to her room and I was happy.

The next day, she came down and we covered a few things. I asked how she did with the shoes and socks and she started crying. She said she had struggled for 20 years with her shoes and socks and in one kind moment, I gave her what she saw as complete independence. I told her it was my sincere pleasure. We finished and she went back to her room. She was happy and I was happy.

As I walked down the hall with her Physical Therapist (PT) the following day, we talked about how we would discharge that day and how this lovely lady had done so well. The director of the rehab department pulled us into her office. She said, “Haven’t you heard? She’s gone.” The PT and I looked at each other. We had not discharged, how could she be gone. Nope, the director said. The lovely lady had died peacefully in the night. She was gone.

I kept playing the previous days through my head and the cord that resonated greatest was that I had taught her what she wanted and needed to know. No matter how trivial to me in process, I had given her a feeling of independence and peace. I had taken one silly teachable moment and seized it. It took all of 5 minutes but undid 20 years of dependence. I had not planned to do it, in fact it was a complete surprise.

Each day is filled with teachable moments, unexpected opportunities to share your knowledge and experience with those around you who are genuinely interested and motivated in that moment. They need knowledge in that moment, and you have it to share. New opportunities lend themselves to teachable moments. Full engagement lends itself to teachable moments. Being present and not just there provides you the opportunity to seize a teachable moment, but you have to be willing to steer off course a bit and enjoy the ride. If you don’t, that teachable moment may be gone, forever.

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