SLP Interview: Dave’s Journey As A Clinican and Patient

Why did you become a speech therapy professional?

In this series, we pull back the veil on the smart, empathic clinicians in our field to understand why we do what we do.

In our first SLP Interview, we’re joined by Dave Tsuru, a speech-language pathologist who works in adult home health. A childhood tragedy inspired him to become an SLP, while a recent hospitalization of his own reminded him of what matters most.

For a step-by-step guide to assess, treat, and document with more confidence and ease, check out The Adult Speech Therapy Roadmap!

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Why Did You Decide To Become An SLP?

When I was a teenager, there was an event that had a profound impact on my life.

Friends of my family were staying at a little rambler my parents own on the Pacific Coast. The family had a 10-year-old son who was on the autism spectrum. One day, he eloped.

After a large-scale search, he was found, drowned, in a small body of water down the street. I was with his parents and sisters when the authorities gave them the news. Their cries are something I will never forget.

From that point on, I knew that I wanted to work with children with disabilities with the goal of enabling them to find their voice or ability to communicate.

Prior to adult home health, I did work in an outpatient pediatric clinic and home health with pediatrics.

What Is A Favorite Memory On The Job?

One of the most memorable moments I had occurred this past winter.

I had a patient who, while in rehab for a CVA, was diagnosed with severe oropharyngeal dysphagia. He was told that he would be on a PEG for life. Then was sent home NPO with a suction machine and the mentality that he would never taste food again.

When I met him in home health, he was motivated, had great family support, and a wonderful work ethic. He religiously completed his HEP, and, one month after joining my caseload, was upgraded to puree/NTL.

3 months out, he was cleared via a modified barium swallow study to safely consume regular/thin with strict swallow precautions.

He was the quickest of my patients to be upgraded, especially given his prognosis. This is even more profound given that, upon my first evaluation with him, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted speech services after being told that there was no point in speech therapy since he would never swallow again.

Please Tell Us About Your Recent Hospitalization

As January was about to turn over to February, I was dressed and ready to head out to work. But I was bothered by a pain in my leg and lower back that had lingered since lifting an object for a patient the previous week. During the lift, I’d felt a sharp pain in my lumbar region and assumed I’d pinched a nerve or strained my back.

But as I headed out the door, I thought to myself, it probably wouldn’t look too good to my patients if I can barely walk.  So, last minute, I headed to the ED to get checked out.

Upon arrival, my blood pressure was in crisis at 151/121. And since my left leg was swollen, the ER physician ordered an ultrasound. At this point, I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary, so I joked with the ultrasound tech thinking that she wouldn’t find anything.

But within 15 minutes, a vascular surgeon came in. He was kind, but straightforward:

“You have a three-foot-long blood clot running from your ankle to your pelvis.”

My mouth dropped.

“Due to logistics and the extent of the clot, we will conduct a thrombectomy first thing in the morning.”

The following morning, they completed the surgery. Luckily the clot was actually only 6 inches long, but I stayed in the hospital overnight to make sure there were no complications and was released the following day.

Late that afternoon, my left arm felt tingly. Ironically, I was reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s new book, Whole Brain Living, when the tingling started. I decided to head back to the ED. After an echo of my chest and CT scan of my head and neck, it was confirmed that I had experienced a TIA and had bilateral pulmonary emboli.

Over the next few days, I was administered the SLUMS and other cognitive protocols. They also placed me on dysphagia precautions. I had anomic episodes every few hours and also had noticeable short-term memory deficits. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall my address. 

I consider myself incredibly lucky that I wasn’t more impacted. It took about 2 weeks for my brain to feel like it was back at baseline. A month out from my TIA, I still slept quite a lot: 12-16 hours a day. Two months out, I still need 10-14 hours of sleep a day.

Six weeks after surgery, I went back to work part-time and have recently transitioned to full-time. The cardiologist says that my heart still has abnormal readings. And I have referrals for rheumatology and oncology, as the doctors found abnormalities in my bloodwork.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy being back providing patient care and being the clinician rather than the patient.

What Surprised You Most About Being A Patient?

I was most surprised by how efficient and coordinated a large-scale medical team can be. The streamline of my care was seamless.

Did Your Experience Change How You Approach Patients?

It really didn’t change the way I approach my patients. But it was a good reminder about the importance of interdisciplinary care and how imperative communication is within the team.

Is There Anything Else You’d Like Our Readers To Know?

Hug your kids, family, and friends.

Don’t wait to say the things you’ve always wanted to say or do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

We, as SLPs, see how fragile the human body can be. As much as we like to think that we are indestructible, life can change in an instant. 

Thank you, Dave!

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