NORTHEASTERN STUDENTS REFLECT ON COOP PROGRAM IN HAWAII
“Gratitude at Latitude 21 o ” It’s Saturday, December 28th, 2019 – the day I somehow thought would never come so I would get to stay in Hawaii and live the dream forever. I just watched the last glimpse of an Oahu blurred by tears fade into the horizon out the airplane window.
As I sit with a lei around my neck, a stomach full of poke, eyes filled with tears, and a heart full of gratitude, I cannot help but think back to the last time I was on a plane (okay, not really the last time, because that was for skydiving, but the last long plane ride) coming to what seemed like an unknown world.
I remembered how anxious and even scared I felt about having to make a home out of a place I did not know surrounded by people I had never met and how I had never even worked in a physical therapy clinic before.
Those fears subsided as I began to meet members of the Fukuji & Lum Ohana. First was Jocelyn – as she walked up our driveway to say goodbye to the previous co-ops and realized that we were the newbies, she radiated pure joy as she exclaimed “6 months, wooo!” and gave each of us the sweetest hug. Then there were Joy and Hillary who helped us settle in on orientation day with smiles and kind hearts, and Rachel Hyland who stopped by to meet us even though it was her day off. Mark and Jessie were so patient and kind when teaching me how to use WebPT and took every opportunity to explain how the clinic functioned to help me feel more comfortable with the new environment. Jamie and Tasha (and later Alissa) seemed like the coolest therapists ever and I wanted to be just like them. Ross offered to put my bike in the back of his truck and drive me home starting on my first day of work and continued to offer every day following. Everyone I met that day and in the days and months to come was welcoming, inclusive, and genuinely wanted to get to know me, offer a helping hand, and teach me something new.
I woke up every day grateful to go to work and for the first time in my life, I actually looked forward to Mondays. My typical Monday went something like this: wake up before the sun and bike to the clinic for 6am workout with Jamie, Janie, and Nicole, go for a run as the sun rises, shower and eat my breakfast at a picnic table overlooking the bay, and then head to the pool for the morning where I was greeted with hugs from coworkers and patients. I will never forget one of my first days of work when a pool patient was moved to tears after Rachel told her that her insurance had approved more sessions because “this was the only thing that was helping.” It was in that moment and in countless others like it that I recognized how special this profession is. After a morning filled with spinal decompression, gait training, core stabilizations and sunshine (or sometimes rain), I’d head to WORC for the afternoon. I lived for the days when Jamie would say to me okay, here’s what you should know about this patient, I tried x and y last time, depending how he’s feeling maybe try z today and then see what else you can come up with. I could hardly believe how much trust and confidence was placed in me.
I have always been a creative individual thanks to my dance background and I loved coming up with new exercises or tasks for patients to try. I did not realize how much I would enjoy working with the wide range of patients that WORC treats – from teenagers to elderly, from vertigo to Parkinson’s, from patients who were pretty much confined to table exercises to those that could do more kettlebell swings than me. I treasured the moments I got to spend with these patients and gradually became more confident in my ability to communicate effectively with them.
One of my favorite work memories was dressing up as the Village People with WORC and choreographing/singing our own version of the YMCA. Clearly our creativity extended beyond just making up new exercises to get patients back to work! And even though every day was not a dress up day (okay, it was only every other day in October for PT month), each day was an opportunity to learn a new skill, to meet a new patient, to ask questions, and to reciprocate the compassion shown to me by every person I was privileged to work with.
When we were not working, the co-ops and I spent every moment exploring. At the beginning of our time together, we would try to plan out our days and they almost never went as intended. Maybe we wanted to hike but it was raining, or a road on the way to our destination was closed because of a bush fire, or a hike took much longer than expected so we did not get to whatever we had planned for the rest of the day. The four of us with our east coast mentalities gradually became comfortable going with the flow and being grateful for the current moment. Whether it was Maddi’s adventurous spirit leading us on many hikes I never would have sought out on my own, Jada’s contagious laugh that made us laugh so hard our stomachs hurt for days, or Emily’s positive outlook on every situation and circumstance, we always had a good time together and helped each other to grow.
We pushed each other out of our comfort zones – we went skydiving, swam with sharks, and tried tons of new foods that we still cannot spell or pronounce. We travelled to Kauai and hiked Stairway to Heaven (the legal way). And while we did so many of these awesome, big things together, it’s the little moments that you cannot capture in a picture that I find myself most grateful for and will hold closest to my heart moving forward: singing silly songs to pass time on a long hike, sitting on the beach at night under the stars discussing our highs and lows of the week, playing cards on the side of H1 while waiting for Triple A and Colby to come save us after some car troubles, or riding home from Sunset Beach with the windows down and Wonderwall blasting from our cheap car speaker.
While I knew Hawaii would be beautiful, warm and filled with adventures, I did not realize how much I would come to love the people I met here and how incredibly hard it would be to leave them. I will never forget joining hands with coworkers to express gratitude for each other at our Thanksgiving potluck or singing Silent Night by candlelight at Christmas. I will never forget the patient who invited me to her home for Thanksgiving, or who arranged a hula lesson for me with her granddaughter, or who, after finding out it was my last day, returned to the clinic with a lei that he and his wife hand-picked flowers to make so that I “would remember my time in Hawaii.” I will never forget the morning workouts, the high-fives after making it through a long day, the meals we shared, the fun we had, and the patients we helped. But most of all, I will never forget how I instantly felt loved and accepted by the F&L Ohana for who I am. If a heart could explode from gratitude overload, mine certainly would. Mahalo nui loa to the Ohana for sharing your aloha spirit with me these past 6 months. I promise to keep it close to my heart and to pass it along to those I meet in the future. A hui hou.