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At the beginning of 2020, Here published our annual report, Care Unbound Now. It was packed full of stories discovered by the people that run our services on a day to day basis. We’ll be looking back and featuring those over the next few weeks. Today we begin with Sally York, a Spinal Advanced Physiotherapist with Sussex MSK Partnership.

‘We’ll look at your back, but tell me about the rest of your life’

I come in very much with a sense of curiosity. It’s an openness I find that’s the greatest honor to be able to know about people’s lives and know about what’s important to them. Some people come in and say ‘here’s my problem, sort it out. Some people are like, I need another week off work, I can’t do this’. So it is a bit of both. Sometimes it’s exploring what’s wrong with them and sometimes it’s a really specific need.

And I think being open and curious and interested in what makes people tick and what’s happening in people’s lives. Having the time to do that and really listening. So trying to pick up on clues, the body language, on the pauses in conversation as well – sometimes it’s in these silences which you learn more.

This lovely man came to see me and I used a phrase like, ‘we’ll look at your back, but tell me about the rest of your life. What does what does the day look like for you?’

It was a kind of a quiet moment for us both. There was like this pause and he said ‘well actually it’s really difficult at the moment’. Switching the light on is too easy an analogy, but you know when it’s a really cloudy day and you suddenly see a little shaft of sunlight coming through and it’s like, okay, now we found our moment, we found the key that’s that’s the important thing. That’s a little bit of sunlight. And that’s the bit that’s really of interest.

He had lost his wife. He’d moved to a new area. He’d recently retired. He knew no one. And he was really lonely. That was the overwhelming aspect for him and the back pain was just one aspect of it. He came along with his back thinking, ‘I’m seeing a physiotherapist, they’ll sort out my back’, but actually by being able to move forwards and to talk about the other aspects of his life and the other things that crop up in his life, and coming up with ideas for that, rather than just say, well, yes, that’s sad for you.

And actually be able to say let’s talk about how we could come up with suggestions, other things that he’d be open to. And actually, he was really open to trying to make a difference. He did walking football, because he told me used to enjoy playing football. You can go to the local school and in the evening play football for £1.50.

It was a huge relief to him to actually talk about other things

It’s great because it’s getting you moving. But it’s also great because it’s camaraderie again and blokes being together, which is really important. And the other one was Men in Sheds, which is a national organization, which you go on to a bus or into a room and you do carpentry and woodwork together. So again, it’s people helping each other out because I think you get a huge amount from actually helping others. So actually having people working together and doing something with your hands is purposeful.

And again, just meeting other people is really important. And for him, his shoulders were higher, if you like, as he left the room, which was really nice. You kind of think that’s a different man walking out. I think it was a huge relief to him to actually talk about other things. You just become a little part of that life.

That makes my job absolutely the best job in the world

And it’s sweet because I’ll meet people in the street or I’ll meet them again in clinic years later and they’ll say, you said that. I think golly that’s amazing, isn’t it? I think I talk drivel most of the time. But people say, no, I remember you said that or you were the first person who really listened to me. And that’s huge. That makes my job absolutely the best job in the world.

I think a curiosity, being genuinely interested in people’s lives and being kind to people, realizing that we’ve all got our own battles and everybody’s got terrific life stories and histories behind them, and we’re just one small part of that pathway.

So I think just an openness to hear people’s stories and an interest in their stories. I can sit in a traffic jam and look at everybody in cars around me and think, I don’t know anybody here. And they’ve all got their own lives and their own stresses and their own joys and stories. And I find that quite overwhelming sometimes. And everybody around you are strangers. And yet all of them are just immensely precious.

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