The Right Stuff: Vale Gillian Gorick

Life seems to throw weird stuff at us sometimes. During my extended stay in the home of my birth, my senses have been overstimulated. Every smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight seems to evoke some long-forgotten memory sitting in the recesses of my grey matter. At times, I feel overwhelmed.

I had an experience this week, that took me back 40 years. I read an obituary notice, in the Waikato Times for Miss Gillian Gorick, aged 94. I had largely forgotten Miss Gorick. I only ever met her once. Such was Miss Gorick’s influence on my life, that it conjures up similarities with the characters in Mitch Abolm’s book, The 5 People that you meet in Heaven.

I was seventeen years old, sitting at a table with some of my schoolmates, deliberating over what my future career might look like. There were not as many options as there are these days and certainly many remained off-limits for a girl. I pondered over the traditional professions such as teaching and nursing and even considered medicine but recognised that I did not have the marks, desire, or drive for that. As I leafed through a pile of brochures on the desk, I found two that caught my eye. The first being, Chiropody (now known as Podiatry) which I knew was something about feet and, Physiotherapy. I really did not know the first thing about Physio but the brochure was nicely laid out. I recall young women in white uniforms (like a nurse), with blue epaulettes, helping people to walk and one supporting someone’s leg in bed and helping it to move. I had heard that physios also helped with sporting injuries. It looked kind of interesting.

Someone suggested that if I was thinking of doing physio, I ought to call the hospital and see if they would agree to me going in and looking around the physio department. They told me that if I had an idea of what the job required that I would have a better chance of getting accepted into a course where there was high competition for just a few places.

Enter stage right, Miss Gorick. She had been the Charge Physiotherapist at Waikato Hospital since 1960. Over 20 years before our meeting. “Right”, she said, “So you think that you have what it takes to be a physiotherapist, do you? Jackie, take Dianna around with you and show her everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything. Then come back to me and tell me what you think”.

For, 3 hours, I followed Jackie through the hospital. To the respiratory ward, to see an 11-year-old boy, with Cystic Fibrosis receive postural drainage. I was told that he was unlikely to see the year out. To the neuro/ rehab wards to watch the physiotherapists working with acute strokes and the young men who had been in motorbike accidents-one who had lost an arm and a leg on the same side due to a sideswipe injury; A young girl on a tilt table who had sustained a head injury after falling off a horse. A woman in significant pain in the burns unit who had sustained 3rd degree burns to 60% of her body receiving a bath and passive movements. Then the routine orthopaedic patients being mobilised on crutches and given bed exercises; the post-surgical and medical wards with pottles of green sputum; in ICU, the unconscious intubated man with tetanus requiring passive movements and chest care including suctioning. I pretty much “saw” everything. “Well?” said Miss Gorick on our return. I am not sure what my response was but, I knew that I wanted to be one of those caring physiotherapists who were doing amazing things to help people get back on their feet again. I must have said something to that effect. Miss Gorick said to me “Put my name down on your application form and I will put a good word in for you”. Miss Gorick had made sure for the benefit of the Profession to which she was committed, and to me, that I was made of the “Right Stuff”.

Miss Gorick leaves a remarkable legacy. Not only, a life of commitment to her profession and to helping others but also in her retirement, she worked tirelessly and offered a considerable financial contribution to the construction of a community-based hydrotherapy pool and to the establishment of Toy Libraries

A friend of mine summed Miss Gorick up beautifully. “She was blunt., bossy but had a huge heart and was full of compassion. Our next trip to NZ won’t be the same”.

Rest in Peace, Miss Gorick.

Dianna Howell Certmgr MIML MAPA June 2021


Miss Gorick features in the oral histories undertaken by the NZSP as part of the 100 years celebration in 2013. She proudly purports, that when she became the Charge Physiotherapist in 1960, her first act was to replace the massage sign on the door with Physiotherapy. You can listen here, along with stories from a number of other pre-eminent Kiwi Physiotherapists.

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