Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Washing of the Feet

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If you're a occupational therapist with a really tough patient,
I recommend
focusing on the FEET.
You know what, though?
Cleansing of the feet is for every ONE of us..

What do feet do for us?  They:
  • transport us everywhere we go  
Your feet travel approximately 7,000 steps a day, and the average person walks 115,000 in a lifetime (thejoyofreflexology.com)
  • lead champions to the podium
"I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up." Jesse Owens
  • provide grounding  and a connection to the earth
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." Henry David Thoreau
  • help us make a stand
"I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet." Nadia Comaneci
  • bring us pleasure or sensory experiences
Foot rubs, pedicures, barefoot walks on freshly cut grass or on the beach..

You get the point!
Every time I have a difficult, defiant, depressed or emotionally detached patient, I pull their basin out of the nightstand drawer. I fill it with warm soapy water and slip their feet into the healing liquid.

You may think, "That is not a skilled service.
 And I will tell you that, indeed, it is.

Not only is it ultimate self care, but, as a therapist, you can address
  • posture,
  • cognition,
  • strengthening, and
  • psychocial aspects of healing
while the patient is soaking his feet.

Arnie had been taking every bit of encouragement possible to even get out of bed. For two weeks straight. It was time to have a meeting with him and his wife. He was going to have to demonstrate a little more initiation to prove he didn't want to stay right there in the nursing home for good.

Arnie's feet looked as if he had not washed for years. I tried not to gasp when I spread his toes to check his skin integrity. The toe jam was so thick, I could not see his skin. The odor was foul. This was not just a quick footwash. This was an hour long endeavor and commitment to service to this man who seemed difficult, surly, and unmotivated to do anything.

I went through three basins of water, half dozen washcloths and a couple towels. I removed dirty layers of skin that should have shed off months ago. Clean, pink skin became visible over time, and I was relieved to see an end in sight.

Despite the discomfort of this task, I became intensely aware that this was an act of service to Arnie. A humble demonstration of caring. It changes people when you do this for them.

While I was doing this, Arnie began to talk. He told me of his childhood growing up and working hard on a ranch in Colorado, his adult life shared with a devoted wife and his children. He shared information that would not have crossed his lips had we not been in this intimate setting. He worked on strengthening his neck and trunk, and I dried his legs.

I applied A&D ointment (looks like vaseline) on Arnie's lower legs and feet, then he lifted his legs to receive a clean pair of socks. His facial expression had changed. Softened. I was no longer the pesty therapist trying to get him to stay out of bed. I was someone he had begun to trust.

The next day, I entered Arnie's room. He looked up and did something he had not yet done in his two weeks there - he pulled the covers back and sat up. It took him a l-o-n-g time, but he did it - in his time, not mine. I just stepped back and let him follow his pace.

I was so proud of him! He had turned the corner. I have to believe that washing the feet was a catalyst.

Gregory S Neal shared something really beautiful when he wrote Footwashing as a Means of Grace:

 It is a means of grace
for the person who does the washing
as well as a means of grace for the one who receives it.
It is a means of grace when we wash,
for in our washing of our fellow disciples’ feet
we learn what it means for us
to serve as Jesus served,
to give of ourselves in order to provide cleansing
for our sisters and brothers in Christ.
When we wash another’s feet,
we experience just a little bit of the self-giving love
that Jesus had in great abundance for everyone,
and it is this love that we are called to express to others
by washing their feet.

My job is not glamorous. It is sometimes a bit disgusting.

...It is, however, an experience of daily grace. For that, I would not trade it.

When you need to show someone you care,
consider the feet.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for that!!! You are truly gifted and faithfully think outside the box, bravo fellow
    OT practitioner ;-p big hug, kat d