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Knowledge Gained on Unfamiliar Territory

Byline: Andrea Salzman, MS, PT

A 17-year-old I once knew went to college with a deficit. She was ostensibly well versed in literature, having written the obligatory Major Author (Dorothy Sayers never had a kinder word spoken of her); she white-knuckled her way through Calculus I and II by the end of senior year and she even graduated with the ability to place pen to paper and come out with something that looked relatively decent, if not actually pithy.

It was only the subject of geography that seemed, if you will, to "go missing." And not just the

imponderables we all lose, like the exports of Guam; it was the relatively big stuff, like Asia.

So—fast forward to the girl's first week in college. I (oh please, you knew it was me!) signed up for a World War II class slated for upperclassmen. It started out poorly. We were handed a map to gauge our preliminary understanding of the theater of war. The map provided the outline of the European continent and dashed lines for country borders. From this, we were to fill in the capitals, location of concentration camps, and, of course, the names of the countries.

I was stumped. I looked around me. Alas, everyone else was occupied. Heads down, they scribbled all kinds of deliciously geographic tidbits. My heart aquiver with envy, I scanned the room for a sympathetic soul. Instead, I found the eye of one of my professors who — inconceivably — seemed to believe me capable of cheating. Pride bruised, I averted my gaze back to my own, sadly blank paper. Good heavens! Surely I knew something of Europe!

I took the opportunity to write my own name in the right upper hand corner. Andrea Poteat. Well there, that was something. I looked around. They were still writing. I wrote the date neatly beneath my name. For good measure I added the name of the course: "The Holocaust: A Colloquium Course."

OK. Now for the actual map. Well, certainly, that big thing must be Russia. A triumph! Pass the papers forward. I had depleted my knowledge and was ready to move forward.

Well, the next week's class became a milestone moment. The professor with the evil eye and suspicious nature handed out the papers in descending order of grade (where do they learn these methods of teaching?) There was only one paper left. "In all my years of teaching," he started, holding my pitiful and lonely map to his chest in the front of the room, "I have never seen such a flagrant lack of knowledge of geography." The paper was slowly turned to the class, a large red "-10" on the top. The class tittered, paused, and then guffawed.

I had made a few (inconsequential) errors. Europe, the continent, was now suspended upside down. And the big thing I thought surely must be Russia? The Mediterranean Sea.

The Point 

Oh, the point! Truth be told, academic and professional life is full of map tests. We will all fail and — I hope — fail with great flourish. Lack of failure means you never went for it. You may take a class that is years beyond you and bomb out with great aplomb. Or you may fail your board certification exam the first time around. You may fail to fix a patient because you tried a method that you should have practiced on your husband first. You may be laughed at by colleagues for trying to learn some new method. But you failed only because you tried. You tried to be something worthy. If you stop trying because failure stings too much, you will never know the joy of overcoming.

How do I know? I have lived through the map test.

Today, when I shop for shower curtains, I pause. I pause just long enough to find the one with the map of the world printed in four-part color and ponder that age-old question: "Can one truly learn the countries of the world while sitting on the pot?" I now take every opportunity to share my knowledge that Italy proudly points its little boot down, down towards the giant S found at the bottom of the world. They are little things, but I like to think they help others.

I helped the Russians anyway. They got a lot better territory than before.

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Check out the foundations of aquatic therapy in this research: Becker, Bruce E. "Aquatic therapy: scientific foundations and clinical rehabilitation applications." Pm&r 1.9 (2009): 859-872.

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