Many of our patients and clients look to us as trusted advisors who will always act in their well-being. Setting aside the shackles that big insurance tries to lay on us, we always strive to fulfill that expectation. That’s what we were trained to do in therapy school, and those are the underpinnings of our profession. I was recently reminded that taking ownership of the trusted advisor role is not a “sometime thing.” It is, as Vince Lombardi would have said, “an all the time thing.”

Last week during an errand I crossed paths with “Mike,” a man in his late 20s who seemed in good health. I noticed he wore what appeared to be a brace on one of his lower extremities, and thought it might be something he was using post-stroke. Turned out it was an off-the-shelf AFO he had been using after being struck by an errant bullet on New Year’s Eve little more than 1 year earlier.

As Mike explained it, the bullet, presumably shot in celebration of the New Year, nicked his spine and initially left him flat, unconscious, and paralyzed. His first thought was, “Will I live?” His second thought was, “Will I walk again?” His third thought, not altogether uncommon among men his age was, “Will I have sex again?”

He was initially treated at a small Catholic hospital where he recalled receiving excellent care from highly engaged therapists. Later, however, when he become an outpatient at a university hospital, he found his therapy team highly disengaged. “It was like treatment by bureaucracy,” Mike told me, and explained that his therapists mostly looked at their clipboards and paperwork—not at him.

He said what made him feel worst of all was that his therapists did not give him a chance to do his best. The therapists, according to Mike, had not allowed him to use his own thinking and provide input relative to his therapy program. As much as he wanted to take a role in his rehab he felt those wishes were totally dismissed by the “treatment bureaucracy.”

Living far away from family, Mike went through the experience mostly unaccompanied. Mike was his own healthcare advocate, if not his only healthcare advocate.

We must remember the person we are treating may not have a support system. They may be dealing with recovery and rehabilitation as a solo act. For those people in particular we must remember to stay engaged. We must remember to always respond as a trusted advisor, because for the person we are treating we may be their only advisor.

Keep yourself fresh, keep yourself engaged, and allow  yourself to recharge so you have the energy to consistently respond as the trusted advisor. Your patients are watching and they are listening. And for better or worse your patients remember.