Two Hats of Many

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Wanda holding sister, Jerrie (1), Karen (2) on Mark’s 11th birthday

I’ll bet every woman feels she is wearing too many hats from time to time as she tries to fulfill the needs of family, friends, personal, professional, neighbors and colleagues. Today we celebrate mothers of the family and the influence women have in society. Next to my own mother who gave me the gift of life and continues to effect who I am today, stands my mother-in-law, Wanda. Her optimistic power in Mark’s life is a great blessing to me too.

Besides being a creative, fun, loving and caring mother, she made a career as an Occupational Therapist (OTR). Wanda was the first OTR I’d met and I assumed she helped people find a job. It didn’t take long for Mark to set me straight. She helped people with mental illness perform activities needed in daily life by using a crafts media.

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Mark and Wanda

Through the years after our accident, I quickly learned the importance of skilled OTs. The ability to brush his teeth, feed himself and get a shirt on became the tasks Mark had to relearn after his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Since 1991, I’ve met more OTs than I can count and I appreciate each one for their help with improving Mark’s quality of life.  Whenever meeting an OT for the first time, Mark proudly states, “My mother is an OT” He then shares some experiences he had as a child with her work.

I’ve written, “I was raised to be a caregiver.” My upbringing helped prepare me for this challenge. Likewise, I believe Mark’s childhood prepared him to be a survivor.

Two hats, Mother and Occupational Therapist, which have had the greatest impact in our lives.

I asked Wanda why she chose this career and she agreed to let me publish this interview.

The first thing that drew me to OT was a movie called Snake Pit. It was about a woman who was committed to an asylum and how she eventually recovered and was released. When I was picking a major in college and looking through college catalogues, OT caught my eye because it involved helping people and a lot of crafts. I learned that psychiatric hospitals had OTs and the deeper I looked into it the more interested I became. Psychiatry and the idea of helping someone improve their attention span, concentration, attention to detail, better living and socialization skills and generalization by using crafts media was what influenced me most.

How long and what kind of schooling did you need before you could practice OT?

I had four years in college with a major in OT and a nine month internship working with other OTs and passing the national exam, which qualified one to add the R after OT. The internships had to be in all these fields: pediatrics, general medicine, tuberculosis, orthopedics and psychiatry and you had to be over 21. I started college in 1948 and got my degree in 1952. By the time I finished internships I really liked both orthopedics and psychiatry and decided I would take either kind of job. Psychiatry was the first job that turned up so I started in 1953. At that time about the only hospitals that had psychiatric patients were institutions. Since then most hospitals of any size have a small unit for psychiatric patients.

How long did you work in this field?

If I remember correctly, I think I worked in psychiatric settings for 22 years: small private settings, large state and territorial settings and the last 16 years at a medical teaching university.

What made a good patient to work with and what made a good family member or caregiver?

All patients were good to work with. We seldom even met family members because until recently, families were ashamed or afraid of mentally ill family members and seldom even acknowledged them. The patients were committed to hospitals and lived there, seldom seeing or hearing from their families.

How did you feel about this separation from family?

I thought family abandonment was terrible, but that’s just how it was. Some of the staff were concerned about the patients, others not so much. In hospitals where patients stayed a long time (years), they formed friendships and the hospital was like a community.

Describe a typical day at work and some of the crafts you did with the patients.

At Oregon Health Sciences University, the day started with rounds, then OTs led an exercise group and a crafts group before charting and lunchtime. After lunch, we led a relaxation group, then an activities group where we worked on attention span, concentration, social skills, etc. This often involved playing games of all kinds, quizzes or planning for the lunch that the patients got together to cook for everyone on the unit once a week, then more charting. Yes, we used a full variety of knives and never had a problem with them in any of the groups. We did check tools and equipment after all groups. In other settings, OTs were responsible for arranging social events, mostly dances and church services. This included everything from getting the band or minister to setting up the room. Sometimes we took patients on outings such as bowling, walks, etc.

 Some of the major crafts we used were: leather work (hand tooled and carved purses, belts, etc.), weaving on pot holders frames to floor looms, ceramics (slab construction, pinch pots, molds), needlework (knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing) and all minor crafts you can think of.

There was a job cut, so Wanda retired in 1998, seven years after Mark’s TBI. From my own experience with OTs I can imagine the constructive difference she made to hundreds of patients she helped, along with the students and colleagues she influenced. I witnessed some of this when Wanda visited Mark in the rehab center as she quickly became friends with Mark’s OT  The therapist was new to the field and appreciated Wanda’s experience and sought her advice at times. Since Wanda lived several hundred miles away, she mailed things for Mark to work on or sent articles with ideas to help him.

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Wanda & Mark 2016

There are all kinds of influential women in this world. If you’re lucky, you get one for a mother. Some people aren’t so blessed, but have other women in their life who nurture, teach and inspire them. Today we celebrate all women who make us feel like we’re easy to love and fun to be with. Who gives us freedom to grow and lets us know it is okay to make mistakes. I’m fortunate to have several such women in my life. The greatest of all are my own mother plus a mother-in-law or more appropriately thought of as a “bonus mom.” I think Mark is equally fortunate. He was raised by a wonderful woman and has the advantage of an ideal “bonus mom.”

MothersDayImages1To all the wonderful women in the world who benefit lives in a positive way!

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Laura’s Story, Part 8

Written by Christine Scott

Christine

Christine Scott

This post is much easier to write because I can finally include my happily ever after. Weeks ago I was thinking about the story of Cinderella and how, out of all the fairy tales, it’s been told and retold the most. I believe this is because Cinderella’s plight resonates with so many people.

Looking back on my childhood and growing up years, I lived a story similar to Cinderella. My dad passed away while I was very young, leaving my care to a mother who prioritized another sibling’s well-being over mine. I don’t fault her for choosing to put Laura’s needs before mine because my mom’s dedication was necessary for Laura to receive the care she needed. If a mother doesn’t fight for her disabled child, who will?

What distinguishes my story from Cinderella’s is that my mom wasn’t the villain and neither was Laura. In true life, people aren’t easily identifiable as the black and white stereotypes of villains and heroes. They come in every shade between and more often than not, their choices for good or ill, are a result of trying to make the best out of the less-than-stellar circumstances they’ve been given.

For the most part, that’s where the similarities end between mine and Cinderella’s story. I didn’t sing to the animals, have mice as friends, or receive a visit from my fairy god mother. I won’t lie, a visit from a fairy god mother would be very nice. But I did find my prince, and in very unconventional way—Laura helped with that

To catch you up to speed on the timeline of our lives, my grandma recovered from her stroke and was able to independently live in her own home for many years following my grandpa’s death. She never did obtain a driver’s license and with becoming a widow, she became very proficient at public transportation.

When I was thirteen, my mom made a down payment with the royalties she received from my dad’s hang glider plans on a new house. This home was built in West Valley, so we moved about fifteen minutes away from my grandma, but Mom kept in daily contact with her. She continued to be an integral part of our family, taking family vacations with us and helping with my brother. She also shared her love of flowers and history with me whenever given the chance, which fueled my passion for writing and yearnings for her green thumb.

Life went on and I started dating, got my first job at Harmon’s grocery store, graduated from high school, and attended Salt Lake Community College. The doctors eventually controlled Laura’s seizures with many modifications to her medications. She continued to have a lot of behaviors such as picking her face, tantrums, and repetition of certain phrases. She carried around toys and talked to them and she loved Richard Simons workout videos and watching Wizard of Oz.

Dating and having Laura for a sister made for some interesting times because she loved to answer the phone and then repeat her nonsense phrases to whoever was on the other end—usually stuff she’d memorized from shows she’d watched. I learned that letting her answer the phone when guys called who I didn’t want to see again was a great way to get rid of them.

I believe having a mentally disabled sister served as an effective screening process for the guys who came into my life. It took someone understanding and tolerant of disabilities. It required acceptance of differences to be in a relationship with me for an extended amount of time.

Eventually, I met my husband, Nate and he hung around through Laura answering the phone and her tantrums. He even stuck up for me. Laura usually was well behaved in his presence because he expected her to be kind to me.

Laura holding Jessica

Laura holding Jessica

After we were married, Laura treated me different. She never physically picked on me again. Maybe it was because I didn’t live with her and our roles had changed, but I don’t know for sure. When my first daughter, Jessica was born, Laura was fascinated with her, except when she cried. I would have to take Jessica out of the room so it wouldn’t upset her.

Marriage brought a freedom and peace which had been lacking in my life. I was able to progress and explore my talents. From the first time we met, Nate believed in me and my abilities. I will forever be grateful to him for not judging my family situation and loving me through all the strangeness. He was my prince who rescued me and keeps rescuing me every day.

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Mom holding Jessica with Laura

Together, Nate and I have faced many challenges and grown together while caring for our five children. I have absolutely loved being his companion through this craziness I call our life.  He has put up with my marathon running, dreams of becoming a successful author and finishing my occupational therapy assistant degree. I appreciate him for standing by my side through my anxieties and plethora of self-doubts while I’ve struggled to believe in myself and my abilities. And for this, I will love him forever and back again.

 Thanks Christine for being a guest author and sharing your life story of living with Laura. This segment reminds me of the importance of advocacy. While your mother was involved in being an advocate for Laura, you missed having one in your childhood. I’m glad Nate came into your life and was your champion and promoter. As independent as we all want to be, I believe we all need someone to encourage and back us up. You have shown us the difference an advocate can make in our lives. I’m so glad you found your prince.

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3, details of Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days. Part 6, illustrates the importance of building fun memories with our loved ones, which can ease the grief of losing them. Part 7, Christine remembers her mother’s extreme demands as a young widow caring for three children on her own with the oldest having mental and physical disabilities and the youngest an infant. Unfortunately, Christine, the middle child who didn’t require attention was sorely neglected and often responsible for taking care of her baby brother.