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!

There’s No Place Like Home

Nestled in the gorgeous Wasatch Mountain range is the beautiful Sundance resort. For the past several years my brother Steve has pampered us along with our parents and other siblings to a delicious dinner and outdoor theater tickets. Just a few days before Mark’s surgery in July, we found peace and entertainment surrounded by the huge pine trees as we enjoyed the Wizard of Oz. The storyline and music were perfect timing for the turmoil ahead. A few tears streamed down my face as Dorothy sang, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The promise of blue skies, dreams coming true and troubles melting like lemon drops gave me hope for a brighter future. I’ve reflected on the story often through Mark’s recovery.

In the classic story written 77 years ago, of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, being caught in a tornado’s path which took them to the magical Land of Oz where life is strange, but beautiful. Wishing to return home, she is helped by the Good Witch of the North, but in trouble with the Wicked Witch of the West. She follows the yellow brick road to Emerald City where the great wizard lives in hopes he can take her back to a familiar way of life with the people she loves. In her travels she meets a scarecrow who wants a brain, a tin man who yearns for a heart and a cowardly lion who desperately needs courage. They all hope the Wizard of Oz will help them before the Wicked Witch of the West catches up with them. There are many twists and turns in their journey to meet the wizard who everyone says can help Dorothy return home and grant her new friends their wishes for a brain, heart and courage.

It’s common to hear in the halls of a rehab center, “I want to go home.” I’m quite sure it is the sentiment of most patients and the motivation for everyone who works hard in therapy. Some landed in rehab after surgery, while other storms such as a stroke, illness or loss of limb brought them there. All have left the comfort of their home in an effort to improve or save their health. The physical condition cyclone has taken each of them to a life that’s strange and unfamiliar. It’s made beautiful by a caring environment and other patients who understand the pain and share the goal of recovery. Wishing to return home, each is helped by good doctors, nurses, aides and therapists. The patients follow their advice like Dorothy followed the yellow brick road in hopes to get the help they need to return home. In real life there’s no Wizard of Oz who can magically get you home with all your goals achieved. Instead it takes persistent and painful work. Just as the scarecrow, tin man and lion found out, most patients learn from the journey they have within them what it takes to obtain their desire.

Dorothy was right, there’s no place like home and on Friday we were finally able to return. There is nothing more restful than sleeping in my own bed. However, I appreciate wonderful places like Rocky Mountain Care when we’re not capable or safe to be home. I’m filled with gratitude for therapists who work a bit of magic with their knowledge, and a caring staff that is all heart. I value the friendships we made there and am motivated by their life stories and courage. The environment there is very different from home, but it’s made beautiful as people improve and friendships form.

It’s hard to say goodbye to people we may never see again, who have inspired us in our lowest hours and have been with us daily in the pain and success of recovery. We return home changed by our experience and blessed by many people’s influence.

I am grateful to Steve for a wonderful annual summer tradition and for this years play which reminded me that Somewhere Over the Rainbow, skies truly are blue.