Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lesson of the Day: DON'T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...

Back to my blog home page:

It's Saturday, July 30, my first day back to work in the rehabilitation department of a small tourist town nursing facility in northern California following a whirlwind 2-week vacation in the Mediterranean. It's during this vacation that my twin sister pins me down.

She's the Director of Online Communications for a multi-national there. She insists I start a blog to share the tidbits of LMAO or bring-you-to-tears material that I shoot off to my mom and sisters via email or tales I tell when all seven siblings and spouses huddle at "the farm."

I oblige. I realize it's time.

Thank God she has the skills to set me up. Ask me to figure out how to make a muscle move after a stroke or how to treat a cognitive disorder, and I'm fine. Starting a blog is another story. So, here goes!

I am a traveling occupational OT.

Travelers can land anywhere across the US for short stints of, say, 8 to 52 weeks. We work in hospitals, nursing homes, or home health agencies.

In my current assignment, I started shortly after Labor Day 2010 on an 18-week contract at what some family members there refer to as a "convalescent home" in northern California. I fell in love with them, and they with me. I kept extending my assignment. Voila, in 5 weeks time, I bid them farewell, or I am considered a permanent employee at the year anniversary.

It's unusual to linger in a travel spot.

These positions are sometimes (not always!) vacant in facilities you'd feel ill at ease to consider for your ailing loved one. Telltale signs of a poorly run facility, in case you're wondering (thank goodness, it is not like this industry wide):

wheelchairs caked with old food or worse,
dirty fingernails,
the smell of urine,
people sitting in the front lobby without their false teeth or glasses...

Surroundings aside, there is one thing that keeps me consciously choosing this setting - the feisty, beautiful, confused, graceful, crabby, hilarious, angry, and honest old people.

But let me tell you now. This is not a glamorous field.

Today, I would have welcomed a slide-into-work-again easy day, but it was not to be. The first patient I introduced myself to was a 72 year old cardiac patient splayed out on his bed, beer belly exposed, tatoos completely painting his arms and legs, and whining that he couldn't move in the bed to reach his bedside urinal.

While I bit my tongue 5 times in the hour I was with him, counting the minutes until I had evaluated his ability to toilet, groom and get back into bed (we call that ADLs - Activities of Daily Living), I was humbled when he said something really serious.

I asked him what he wanted to be called. "Hank," he said. "Please don't call me Robert" (the name on his chart) - "my mother and step father used to beat me, and that's what she always called me...Robert."

"I hate that name," as he cast his eyes away.

I assured him that I would inform everyone of his wish. He paused a moment and followed with a sincere apology for ranting and raving through the whole treatment...and I thought, I am so glad I bit my tongue!

We simply do not know what rocky, curvy paths others have sailed, trudged or crawled. It's easy to look at someone and judge. He's got tatoos. She's bald. He's a dirty old man. She's a bitch.

In the past couple months, I have held hands with, listened to, praised, instructed, solved the world's problems with and encouraged former campaign managers, a law professor who pens travel guides, a spunky 92 year-old who outfitted half of Hollywood's costumes in the 1950's, a physical therapist who treated WWII soldiers and Hollywood's finest, friends of the real Linus from Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts' cartoon, winery warehouse managers, and an orthopedic surgeon with dementia.

I have learned valuable lessons from a electric pole climber who nearly killed himself drinking too much, a homeless guy whose truck rolled over on him at a truck stop (long story), British war brides and a number of indigent patients just trying to survive.

They each look different on the outside, yes, but guess what? We all have the same feelings, experiences and challenges on the inside. When we strip away all the reasons we set ourselves apart, we are all people simply trying.

To survive.
To love.
To be heard.
To live.

I entered a room today, glanced at the A bed, closest to the door. The pale, gaunt man was laying on his right side covered with a sheet, legs curled up despite the knee splints to attempt to straighten them. He was reaching into thin air for something only he could see. Muttering.

I discovered photos newly hung on his wall. His daughter must have stopped by when I was on vacation. There Tom was...a life collage of an incredibly good looking and successful man. Soldier with a strong and eager face, vibrant NYC professional in a starched suit, enthusiastic husband and father, surrounded by his smiling family.

I paused my gaze on him. He had returned to his youth and was pulling a sheet of paper out of a manual typewriter, chasing a deadline for the Wall Street Journal.

If I am one day old, confused and bedbound with contractures, who will have the eyes and heart to realize that I have led an adventurous, boisterous and full life? I do very much hope by then that they don't judge my book by its cover.


  1. This is wonderful Tre. I am so glad to see homage paid to people that have lost so much after having lived lives that most don't even consider when they encounter them in the "convalescent home". God has given me a wonderful gift to be in service to those that need help.

    Each has a story to tell and it is great to see them put into the proper light when there is so much misconception about growing old. They are the teachers for our generation if we will only let them open our eyes.

  2. This kind of blog puts life in perspective, both for family members and also health care professionals.

    I loved your first posting and look forward to more!

  3. Second that I have read is even better than the first, and it brings tears to my eyes to know that there is someone who can extend their love, kindness and regard for those who seemingly have lost it all. Am waiting for the next time you sit down and write. JK

  4. This gives everyone something to think about. JK

  5. Very moving, bringing perspective into ones life! Thanks. Looking forward to reading more!

  6. Thank you....I try to be joyously aware...we all have so much to give in each of our roles, parent, child, sibling, friend, partner, worker, contributor to society...thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Tre