Photo by Lee Woolcock
Interview: Zoe Queally
I arrived in Barcelona during that boiling hot summer of 2003. I still remember trying to pretend to myself that it was easy to cope with the heat and that if I was going to stay for a bit, I’d best just get on with it.
The old romantic in me enjoyed wandering the streets of the old town, shopping in the Boqueria and having a beer on pretty much every plaça possible. I practised my Spanish with market workers while shopping, by flirting with camareros and mingling with my best friend and his crowd of Barcelona friends. The city was vibrant in every way and attacked the senses from all angles…some of it not always pleasant!
The physio life in London was brilliant and loaded with professional respect, but it was hard and fast and left much less time to enjoy the fun things in life.
I think I always wanted to be a physiotherapist. I have always loved sport and movement. I had a pretty severe back injury related to Judo when I was about 16, so that was a good time to find out what it was all about.
Technically, a physio is a neuro-musculo-skeletal specialist, which basically means we get involved in all sorts of problems relating to nerves, muscles and joints. An osteopath works more on bones and joints and a chiropractor tends to work on alignment. If you had an acute episode of back pain and went to any one of these, what they would do to you in the initial phase of treatment would be very similar from a patient perspective but we would all have different reasons and a different philosophy for doing it. It tends to be the follow-up care that differs.
Here in Spain, physios are much less manual therapists and more technicians of electrotherapy and rehabilitation. They tend to be doctor-led rather than autonomous professionals. Those that want to get ahead need to keep learning and adding to their expertise. I teach them assessment skills and how to find the specific causes of common problems for each individual.
This nitty-gritty problem-solving element is what I enjoy most. I love applying this myself to my patients and I really love it when my students can suddenly do this too. In every course, there is always a “penny drop” moment when the students suddenly get it. That’s the reason I do it. Passing 16 years of clinical knowledge on is a great thing to do. Back problems watch out…there are more and more great physios about!
Sometimes, by the end of a hard physical day, I am knackered mentally and physically, so I need to be fit. My favourite gym class is Aerobic Salsa. It’s brilliant! I get to leap around wiggling my boobs and bum and get a good dose of cardio while laughing out loud to Latin tunes. There is no place for stresses or aches and pains there.
My proudest career moment was being asked to participate in the International Congress for Pilates organised by the Federación Española de Pilates last year alongside some of the top names in the Pilates industry. It was terrifying to present to so many respected professionals, yet a great opportunity for me to get the idea of “clinical Pilates” accepted.
I love entertaining at home. My ideal dinner party would consist of my mum, my boyfriend Jordi, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson, Kate Middleton and Father Christmas. I could get a lot of questions answered that I can’t find on Wikipedia! I’d cook my mum’s creamy chicken casserole recipe—the secret is tarragon vinegar—and, of course, it would be accompanied by a good amount of Spanish red.