Wait, what do you do?

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 20 year old self who worked so hard in college to make this career possible for me to continue enjoying 25 years later!

With unending gratitude,

Kristin
Independence Hustler

With Unending Gratitude

The Holidays have come and gone, and I was successful at not hanging myself with Christmas lights! I just might be ready to navigate Valentine’s Day. LOL! This holiday season was filled with anniversaries and experiences that were less than uplifting. I tried to escape Christmas altogether in order to avoid the sadness in many ways including but not limited to; living in Arizona for the winter to avoid the external feeling and landscape of previous holidays, I celebrated with the family on summer vacation & all decided to forgo getting together in December, boycotted decorating my space, and had no plans to celebrate with anyone. Running as hard as possible, the holidays came to knock on my door in order to force me to be present and receive love from the most unexpected places.

The first crack in my plan started with an unexpected gift of a baby Christmas tree from my dear friend, Angela. I opened this tiny box to find a perfect replica of my favorite 1960’s aluminum tree with the color wheel and red garland. Tears ran down my cheeks as I remembered how much that tree means to me. It was a major splurge about 20 years ago and has brought great joy in my life. To have a 3-inch version of it sitting on my desk daily brought a warm feeling of unending gratitude.

The next crack in my full proof plan came in the form of my dear friend, Erin, coming to be with me for the entire Christmas weekend. I could not help myself, and planned a weekend getaway in Arizona wine country at the Xanadu getaway ranch. My thought was revolving around disguising this as a very NON-Christmas experience. We had a blast exploring the countryside, tasting wines, and laughing until we cried.

Another crack showed up from the amazing couple who shuttled our tipsy selves around for 2 days. Much to my surprise, Erin and I were invited to their Christmas Eve meal with family and close friends. Initially, I was not comfortable with this, as it would mean I was walking right into the experience of Christmas that I was trying to avoid. In the end, I said, what the hell, let’s go. We were welcomed with open arms and even received handmade knitted neck warmers that we quickly made into head warmers. It was lovely. When leaving this loving experience, tears welled up in my eyes as unending gratitude filled my heart.

The final crack in my plan arrived on New Year’s Eve weekend. There is pressure on reviewing the events of the year and making resolutions for the next year. I review my life all the damn time and make efforts to learn in order to live a full life. So the external pressure can be overwhelming and daunting meanwhile telling us all that we aren’t doing enough. I wanted to curl up in my bed and just allow this NYE to pass on by. Well, that is not what the Universe had in mind for me. A grand gesture loving friend flew into town to surprise me with a weekend filled with adventure. From the sunrise hot air balloon ride, storytelling on a sun-drenched patio, and a mariachi band I was gifted with an unforgettable weekend. On my drive home to begin this New Year, unending gratitude washed over me.

Despite my efforts to simply not engage in the holiday season, I was joyfully forced to participate. Due to my friends & loved ones, the full proof plan to avoid the holidays was cracked wide open!

With Unending Gratitude,

Kristin

Work gratitude update

Bayada Home Care continues to amaze me!  I started my new travel position in October and was blown away by the kindness in the first three days.  To be honest it is easy on the front end of any relationship to be kind, helpful and positive.  The “real” life of any relationship shows up as the newness wears off.  

Here I am starting my 10th week in this assignment and the newness has worn off.  I have a loose grasp on how each day is to run and can now navigate through the documentation system relatively well.  As a traveling therapist, I am only with a work team for 13 to 25 weeks, depending on the assignment.  As travelers, we are often NEVER included in any staff meetings, work functions, and certainly rarely recognized for our contribution.  That is not because a team or company is mean, it is due to the expense of a temporary worker as well as the fact that we leave.  

Life is very different here with Bayada in wonderful ways!  I have been invited to attend weekly staff meetings that include team building aspects besides patient care planning called the Bayada Way.  I have been invited to fun work functions.  At the first one the entire focus was on staff recognition.  It was wonderful learning the stories of the team member’s contributions.  It shocked me when the traveling therapists were also personally recognized!  We were invited to stand in front of the group while Brandy, the director, said positive things about each one of us.  That simply does not happen, or hasn’t in the past.

Just this week there was a Gratitude party.  The owner of Bayada gifted every staff member with a gratitude check based on years with the company.  This was generous and very touching to listen to the commitment of the owner’s dedication to his team and purpose!  When I too received a gratitude gift of $50, those familiar tears bubbled up behind my eyes.  When I gathered myself, I went to thank Brandy for this generous and unnecessary gift.  She hugged me and smiled while saying, “We wouldn’t be where we are without you.”  I shook my head in disbelief.  Immediately my mind went into a tailspin trying to discredit her comment with nonsense like: “Of course they would be where they are without you.  You don’t matter to them.  You are just temporary and still calling for guidance daily!  She is just being nice.”  My smiling heart had something completely different to say, “See that, you do make a positive difference that is recognized!”   I am listening to my heart and going to buy a wonderful bottle of wine with that gratitude gift!  

This assignment has taught me not only about being a better clinician, but about the power of gratitude, appreciation, and recognition.  Just last week, I had the privilege of leading the team building Bayada Way portion of the meeting.  For those of you who have ever worked with me know that it was a good time filled with stories and laughter!  I was reminded of how much fun it is to facilitate a meeting.  Thank you, Brandy and Bayada, for all you do.  Your integrity with authentically living the values you say you strive for is inspirational and an amazing example!

Sincerely,

Kristin Springfield, OT
Forever Grateful