I get that question several times a day. The name of my job is misleading and creates a great deal of confusion when working with the retired population. I am an Occupational Therapist. Patients typically say, “I don’t want an occupation.” I giggle and shake my head as I begin the explanation of my profession. Over the 25 years of practicing as an OT, my explanation has changed greatly. I now get to the point in 3 sentences.
“I hustle independence and change lives one shower chair at a time. Add a suction cup grab bar and now we are talking! Anything that is important to you, I will work to make you as independent as possible in doing.” Then they are the ones nodding their head with delight.
Occupational Therapists work with people from cradle to just before grave striving to bring function and independence to the lives of people using any creative means available. I currently work in home health with the geriatric population. This is the setting where people are the most comfortable and I am the guest in their home. My challenge is to make their environment safe and conducive to independence in their Activities of Daily Living (bathing, dressing, etc). This may sound simple, sometimes it is, but often times it is not! Providing treatment in someone’s home brings with it wonderful stories!
One very favorite moments of my career occurred during my current assignment. I imagine my state of mind impacts my treatment style. I realize that it is the very simple things in life that make life worth living. One of the first questions I ask the lucky contestant (patient) whom I have the privilege of coming into their home to offer OT, is, “What is most important to you to be able to do for yourself again?” The answers are ALWAYS something simple that the majority of us take for granted on a daily basis.
What people want most ranges from things like washing their own hair without pain, baking for their family, taking a shower by themselves, gardening, or just getting dressed without help. No matter what all of the desired tasks are important to bringing independence and life back to the individual.
Recently I was faced with a new and unique challenge. A patient wanted to be able to get into his walk-in Jacuzzi tub. It is the kind of tub modified for individuals to walk into, sit down on the built-in chair, close the door, fill it up with hot water, and enjoy. This is a fantastic tub and usually easy to get into, however, this particular patient brought a new set of challenges. He is not able to put any weight on one leg, due to recent surgery. There is also limited movement in both shoulders due to arthritis and with that comes decreased strength. In addition to these specific limitations, this wonderful person has great challenges sitting up nor can he stand without a great deal of help. So when he says “The most important thing to me is to get in that Jacuzzi tub.” My response is, ” Absolutely! I will do everything in my power to make that happen.”
On my next visit after I spent the weekend strategizing how in the world I was going to make this happen, I found myself saying, “Are you ready for this? We are getting in there today!”
He looks at me with frightful delight, and says, “Are you serious?”
I reply, “Yes, I am! Do you trust me?”
Now it was his turn to say, “Absolutely! Let’s do this!”
How many people does it take to get one patient into an adapted tub? Three; 2 therapists and a loving caregiver. The smallest one has to be inside the tub that is made for 1 person, as the patient is wheeled up to the tub door with his feet placed inside the tub. The other therapist is on the left of the patient and the loving caregiver is on the right. A gait belt is in place snuggly around the low waist of the patient. On the count of 3, I lift and the other 2 brace the patient who is about an inch from my face. Therapy is NOT for people who have issues with personal space. As the pivot begins we realize the patient is not wearing a sock to allow for the one foot that can bear weight to spin. Gracefully, he is returned to sitting in his wheelchair.
I was the therapist pinned in the tub and called to the fearless team for a sock. As I begin to bend forward to put the sock on, I quickly realize there is very limited space! I damn near have to fold in half to get to his foot. I hike my leg on the built-in seat and bend forward to reach his foot. In putting on this sock my head is situated between his knees and damn near between my own knees at the same time. Another note about this profession, you have to remain professional at all times no matter what position you may find yourself in while helping a patient achieve their goals. This particular patient has a great sense of humor and a quick wit about him.
As I am silently struggling to get this sock on and I hear the patient, my coworker PT and loving caregiver cracking up. I try to lift my head to look to see what they are laughing at. Quickly I recognize that it is me they are laughing at. I try to shush them as I start laughing. Next thing I hear is my beloved patient saying something about my precarious position. If I could have fallen to the floor laughing I would have, instead, I break out into a sweating embarrassed blush from head to toe. I am not typically one to blush easily, but in this position, I could not help it. Of course, this laughter and embarrassment slow down my ability to put his sock on. Finally, I pop up and they erupt into even harder laughter as I am beet red and sweating.
Finally, everyone is calm enough to try round two of this tub transfer. 1,2,3 up, spin and sit on the chair inside the tub. The patient is amazed to find himself exactly where he wanted to be and did not believe it was possible. Of course, I am in the tub with him and have to climb over him to get out so the door can be shut. More laughter and silly comments are made while the sweating blush returns. I find my way out of the tub and close the door as the room falls silent. We are all in awe that this, what seemed like an impossible goal, has become a reality. To top it off, it is safe and possible for his caregiver to do with him. He sits in the dry tub and soaks in the reality of what just happened. As he turns to look at me and says “Thank you! You are amazing!” At that moment I am reminded that I know why I do what I do. The room then erupts in cheers and high fives. We are all amazed that this teamwork was so successful. It took all 3 of us to make this goal a reality.
His smile and gratitude fill everyone in the room with delightful joy! He is so appreciative and grateful for making his dream of getting in the tub again a reality. I am reminded of how it really is the simple things in life that make it worth living! All I did was help a man get into a tub. How many of us are grateful every time we get into the shower safely? I know that I am in the right profession even if the name is confusing. I thrive on bringing independence back to people. The wildcard is learning what desired independence looks like to each person.
Every day is different. Sometimes I get it right for the right person at the right time and magic happens in front of me. Other times there can be epic fails. The wonderful part is you never know when magic will happen, so I just keep asking, “what is the most important thing for you to do for yourself again?”
I am so thankful to my
With unending gratitude,