MR. RUSTICO NATALE MALLILLIN,
Chief Physical Therapist at the UB Physical Therapy and Training Center
This week, we give tribute to physical therapists and the work they do, helping transform lives by restoring and improving motion.
“I would like to believe healing is my calling. Even before I took physical therapy, I engaged on a missionary work. I sort of made it my mission to help people become well. I guess it’s my way of doing something for humanity.”
“Healing – in whatever form – is touching human life. It’s a gift that is beyond our fathom.”
What does it mean to be a physical therapist?
“Physical therapy asks for the ability to understand physical pain and deal with it. But it doesn’t stop there. It equally requires the ability to ‘listen’ to psychological pain and ultimately to understand human nature. People carry different baggage, so they call for different levels of understanding.”
“The human body works on a whole – when a bone somewhere hurts, the whole body feels it, the whole body is very much aware of it. So it matters that as a physical therapist you know how to recognize pain on different levels. It’s a little bit more complicated than most people think.”
“There’s this idea that if you’re in scrubs – a physical therapist, a nurse, a doctor – you’re not allowed to be fragile or vulnerable, that you don’t have the right to get tired. You’re the doctor, the nurse, the physical therapist – you’re supposed to be the strong one. But sometimes it just takes its toll, and it overwhelms you. I guess that’s the one thing we health care providers have to come to terms with – that being a ‘superhuman’ comes with the profession.”
What’s the hardest part of being a physical therapist?
“It’s when you see your patients right in the eye and you know that they have given up hope of ever getting better. It’s also wrapping your brain around the fact that you can’t save them all. My dad passed away from renal failure; my niece succumbed to cancer. I’m in the field of physical therapy – I was pretty much limited from ‘healing’ them. It hits you hard when something like that happens. You can only put your best foot forward, keep doing what you can do to help and somehow save those that you can help and save.”
What’s a PT’s greatest fulfillment?
“It’s when you know you have helped someone heal, that you somehow helped ease somebody’s pain. Whenever I get a compliment, I go, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ I remember being introduced to someone by one of my former patients. He said, ‘This is Rusty. The legacy of physical therapy.’ It’s profoundly humbling, and it just sustains you, you know, it keeps you going.”
Did you ever come to a standstill in your career?
“There comes a point when you can’t tell the difference anymore. When you’ve been dealing with the same cases over and over again for a long time, you sort of lose the ability to tell whether or not there’s a difference, like it all becomes the same. But you learn not to become numb. And that somehow gives you something to fall back on, knowing that at the end of the day you haven’t lost your edge and that you still have your crap together.”
What principle in life do you follow?
“There’s this line by Quaker missionary Etienne de Grellet. It goes like this: ‘I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ Kindness becomes exponential when it’s shared.”
You have treated celebrities and sports personalities. Tell me about the experience.
“Well, we think that being a celebrity means being sheltered from damage. Celebrities are human beings, too. Just like us, they’re bare and they can feel pain, they get wounded, they sustain injuries. It puts us all in the same ground. After all, we all live under the same sun.”
In the Philippines, physical therapists do not get the recognition and respect they deserve, as compared to how they’re regarded in the U.S. What’s your take on that?
“It’s a sad reality. I think a major factor for such is that our system is heavily infiltrated with bureaucracy. Everything just seems to be institutionalized, and there’s lesser collaboration among the people in the health care field. I wish we had more of that.”
If you were not a PT, what would you be?
“An actor, maybe.”
Were there offers?
“There were offers.”
Sir Rusty moved to the U.S. when he was 22 and since worked as a physical therapist, treating patients from all walks of life and from different backgrounds. He has treated American celebrities and sports personalities, among them the late Hollywood actor Christopher Reeve. He came back to the Philippines at 40 to look after his aging mother. He’s 45 now.
The UB Physical Therapy and Training Center is open on Mondays through Fridays, 8 AM – 5 PM and on Saturdays, 8 AM – 12 NN.
Photo by RENE PASCUA
Interview & Text by RONA LIN