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The Honest Answer to Why I Became a Speech Therapist

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Do you ever wonder what makes your specialist/doctor/therapist tick? People ask me the question that makes me tick quite frequently: “What made you want to be a speech therapist?” I always respond, “I love working with kids and I love talking, so it was a no-brainer.” I am such a liar.

The real story started 14 years ago yesterday – August 1st, 2002. It’s a weird day in my life. It was the day I began my career as a speech and language pathologist. I was 18. Nope, I am not some teenage savant who finished six years of college before she hit adulthood. I was forced into the career on that horrible day. But back then I sat on the other side of the table.

That fateful night I watched my best friend’s motionless and bloody body scooped into an ambulance. I later collapsed in the hallway of our small local hospital as they intubated him on his way into the helicopter waiting outside. I prayed the entire drive to the hospital an hour away. I made a lot of promises I am not sure I would have ever been able to keep. I was desperate. When you think you are going to lose your best friend, you become desperate. When your best friend is also your brother, your whole world collapses.

And then we waited. A fixator on a broken leg. A broken arm. A full night of brain surgery. A shunt. A coma. How was this happening? I knew he was in there. I sat dutifully in the chair next to his bed for hours that turned into days, and days that turned into weeks. I would say things I knew would rile him up. I would talk about shows he hated, foods that made him gag, people he loathed. These were the only things that would make him toss and turn. And when he moved I knew he was alive.

And then he woke up. It wasn’t like the movies. I thought he would shoot up and tell us about his experience with “the light” and “the voices.” Not so much. He woke up with something called aphasia. It is common after a severe traumatic brain injury. He didn’t make sense. “If the jumpershell eats soon!” “Michael Jordan is 12 times here!” “You got the safety pins to speak?” He didn’t know us. We were strangers to him. He always referred to me as “blonde sister lady.” I was so touched he remembered I was his sister. We had a long road ahead of us.

I committed that day. We all did. I have a very vivid memory of my mother’s face as the neurologist explained the damage to her. It was stoic and strong but soft and motherly. Our world would revolve around his recovery. My dad would chose laughter and light banter encouragement. My mom chose to encourage through a soft heart and a stern hand. Like only a mother could do. I chose to stay his best friend. I would do everything in my power to work through this with him. We knew he had to be the one to do the work, but we would be there, too. We would learn and push and encourage. I sat through hours of therapy with him. When I wasn’t there, I demanded detailed accounts of sessions from my parents. My mom sat and studied each session, taking vigorous notes. She always asked for homework. And my parents always made him do it.

Three months of a hospital stay, six months of therapy and a lot of prayers later, he found himself near full recovery. Before we were dismissed from his hospital, his SLP invited me to observe her for a day. She thought maybe I had found my calling. She was right.

So this is the story of my journey to where I am today. Know I have been there. Know I appreciate the passion and the drive you have for your own child. When you bring your child to me, I don’t just see you and a kid. I see my mom and my brother. I see myself. I remember what it feels like. I remember how it feels to want nothing more than to see my best friend – my brother – not just survive, but thrive. When you call me with questions, I hear my mom’s voice. When you ask me for activities to use in the home, I remember my own family’s drive. When I walk through a diagnosis with you, I see my mom – sitting in that chair with that stoic and strong yet soft and motherly look on her face.

I could have littered this blog feed with pictures of my brother during his recovery, but I chose not to. I feel strongly that although this was a huge event in his life, it isn’t who he is, and overcoming this is not his greatest achievement in life. He is a college graduate and a successful businessman. He has an amazing wife and three fantastic kids. So I promise – your kid’s greatest achievements are also yet to come.

Originally published: August 3, 2016
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