On Mother’s Day, I posted an article about Mark’s Mother’s career as an Occupational Therapist (OTR). I enjoyed interviewing her and thought it was interesting how treatments changed through the years and varied from those with physical, mental or cognitive disorders.
I’d never heard of an OT before I met Wanda. The word occupational lead me to believe they helped people find a job which was most fitting for each individual based on their knowledge and interests. When Mark realized my confusion, he explained she helped people with mental illness perform activities of daily living, which included crafts. Wanda clarified the craft media were used to improve attention span, attention to detail, concentration, planning, generalization, adaptability and socialization skills.
After our accident, I met another OT while Mark was in his coma. She did passive range of motion type exercises with the arms and shoulders. She ordered splints for his hands and wrists so they wouldn’t curl. I learned a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can cause unwanted, excessive muscle tone, pulling hands and feet in positions which would keep him from using his hands properly in the future. Months later, after Mark came out of his coma and in a rehab center, I met another OT. She oversaw a series of full arm castings, which were needed to stretch out his muscles because the intensity of his flexor tone drew his right arm up to his chest and it was impossible, even manually, to stretch it down to his side. After several casts, he graduated into a brace, which he wore for nearly a year.
My experiences with OTs through the years have taught me there is a large range of treatments an OT does depending on the type of rehab needed. I recognize the needs of a TBI patient and one with mental illness are very different, but I wondered if through the years the profession and approach has changed. I decided to ask Wanda, who’s the best resource I know.
How did the field change from when you started to retirement?
“In the late 60s, there was a push to move patients out of institutions into halfway houses and to close the institutions. This was handled very poorly and resulted in a lot of misery for the patients. At this time family involvement became more common.
When I first started working, there were no tranquilizers or really any other kinds of medications for the mentally ill. Electric shock, insulin shock and “the tubs” were the main types of treatment. A tub treatment consisted of the patient being submerged in a tub of cold water which had a canvas cover with a hole for the patient’s head to stick out and staying there for quite some time as body heat warmed the water. This kind of treatment was given by a Physical Therapist and OTs did not participate in any of these kinds of treatments.”
How did you feel about this treatment and did it seem to work?
“Electric shock therapy did work for many patients. It’s changed a lot since the 50s and is still used for patients who are depressed or suicidal. It works quickly and if I needed it, I’d prefer it to the medications.
Insulin shock therapy was used for patients with other problems, but I don’t remember what the differences were. I haven’t heard of it being used since the 50s.
The tubs worked for some patients, but since I’m always cold, it seemed cruel to me.
These treatments were not used together and OTs did not participate. Treatment was determined by the diagnosis.”
What types of experiences can you share?
“Patients tended to self- isolate when first admitted. Some patients were good to others and some weren’t. They hallucinated freely and were sometimes hostile and aggressive. Sometimes patients had to be isolated until they were in better control of themselves. I can truthfully say I never had a problem with a psychiatric patient, as opposed to a patient with tuberculosis (TB) who was going to bash my head into the wall until other patients jumped out of bed and restrained him.”
Yikes! What caused that?
“During my TB internship, patients were confined to bed and the medications for it were limited. They could have crafts to work on in bed for a certain time limit, fifteen minutes per day for example. I refused to give the patient materials for more time and he got VERY angry. I took refuge behind my supply cart and other patients jumped out of bed and restrained him. These were all ex-servicemen in a VA Hospital.”
Sounds like the military taught them well!
Where did you work?
“Territorial Hospital on Oahu, HI, Northern State Hospital near Mt Vernon, WA, Firlawns Sanitarium in Kenmore, WA, Woodside Hospital in Vancouver, WA and Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). Firlawns and Woodside were small, privately owned Hospitals. The others were very large. All patients were legally committed.”
Mark talks about going to work with you at Firlawns as a child and still remembers some of the patients there. He smiles as he recalls one patient who sang Home on the Range. She changed the words to, “where seldom is heard, an encouraging word…”
We have Wanda to thank for our understanding of the benefits of therapy. Many therapists tell me they enjoy working with Mark because he’s willing to try whatever they ask of him. He works hard to recover or maintain the activities of daily living, which he did so easily before the accident. I believe his mother’s influence and her chosen profession kept him from giving up. With just eighteen years of living under the same roof and only twenty-one years in the same state, her inspiration continues to stretch across the miles between them. It’s a testament to me to the importance of motherhood and the relationship formed in those early years.
I’m forever grateful for the Occupational Therapists who have worked with Mark. Their skills have made a difference in the quality of our lives.