When I tell people I am a Speech therapist or Speech-language pathologist (SLP), their first remark is either, “oh, so you help kids say their ‘r’ sounds” or “oh, you help people talk better.”
While those comments may hold some truth, they most certainly do not hold the entirety of all we do as SLPs. And to be honest, those comments make me frustrated.
SLPs work hard, physically, mentally, and emotionally to provide all their patients with the best care and quality of life. We invest endless hours daily to evaluate and treat a range of disorders and individuals who have lost the ability to effectively communicate or swallow. And without the ability to communicate it is impossible to connect, perform daily tasks, and express love; without the ability to swallow we can’t get the nutrients we need to flourish.
Therefore, to help you visualize my point and the vital role a SLP plays in the lives of others, here are some of my own experiences.
Crying with a patient because after 3 months of not being able to produce one word, they have just sung the entire “Happy Birthday” song without an ounce of hesitation. Smiling non-stop as the patient goes on to sing “Happy Birthday” to everyone she sees as she rolls down the hall, the nurses and therapist all overjoyed at what they are hearing.
Staying up all night not knowing the fate of your patient because when you left work that day, the patient was sent out to the hospital and you have no clue whether or not they are going to survive the night.
Talking with a patient who believes the words they are speaking may be their last on this earth. Trying to hold back tears as they tell you how much of a burden they are to their family.
Listening to a patient as they explain the reason they opted to stay at the nursing home rather than go home with family. Fighting back tears as they tell you that their granddaughter just got her “big girl bed” and they don’t want to take that away from her.
Praying before you go to bed that the results of the next day’s swallow evaluation are positive so that your patient can finally begin to eat again after weeks of not eating anything.
Praying that your patient will live another day, that they can just hold on and that the therapy you are providing truly makes an impact on their life.
Sitting one-on-one with a patient after explaining to them why they may never swallow again. Counseling them as they burst into tears at the very words I have just spoken. Then having to see that patient the next day for treatment working to rehabilitate their muscles in the hopes of getting an adequate swallow, while at the same time, creating an environment where the patient can express their emotions because after spending two months in a nursing home, they are depressed and cry themselves to sleep each night.
Providing therapy to a person who has just had a stroke and has to come with terms that their life may never be the same. And at the same time, helping that person relearn to speak and communicate their daily needs so they can tell their spouse, “I love you.”
Helping a family cope with the reality that their loved one may never be the same after suffering a traumatic brain injury.
Providing attention to a young child who ran away from their old school due to bullying.
Giving love and support to children who are suicidal.
Helping a baby in the NICU who was born premature and now needs to learn how to suck, swallow, and breath independently.
Providing voice therapy to a person who has Parkinson’s so they can speak louder in order to tell their grandchild a bedtime story.
There you have it. These are just a few roles a SLP may play in the lives of others. We are blessed because we get to journey alongside each of our patients, sharing their joys and sorrows, while providing the tools they need to have the best life possible.
So yeah, speech-language pathologists are pretty awesome! And if you ever come across a speech-language pathologist, whether you find yourself in a school, hospital, skilled nursing facility, etc., please say thank you; thank you for the dedication you put in day-in and day-out for your patients.
This post is dedicated to my fellow classmates in the speech-language pathology 2019 cohort at the University of Georgia. I could not have survived my 2 years of graduate school with out you intelligent, compassionate ladies. We did it!