For a while in high school I spent my Saturday mornings volunteering in a local hospital's Physical Therapy Department. I'd pull oxygen tanks, fetch equipment, fill Hubbard tanks and whirlpools, help patients count their repetitions. It was great . . . until one random Saturday when my life forever changed.
Most of those Saturdays blend together in my memory, as did the therapists names and faces. So much of that experience was nondescript. I remember thinking that I loved being in the therapy gym, but there was still something missing. Sure what we were doing was important and making a difference . . . but where was the spark? The life?
I wanted more than just repetitious therapeutic exercise.
I will never forget the Saturday morning when that spark I was looking for showed up. We had been working with an older gentleman who had a Total Knee Replacement. I was sitting on a stool next to the treatment mat, counting out loud the number of times he slid his heel back and forth, bending his knee.
Across the gym I saw a therapist that had never worked on the Saturdays I was there. She was having a cup of tea with a patient.
The two of them had stood together at a countertop, boiled some water in a little pan over a hot plate, placed some tea bags into a teapot and added the water. The patient then struggled to carry the pot and two cups over to a table, where they sat together and chatted about his family.
While I lost count of the knee bends and my patient moaned in agony, this therapist across the room took her gentleman over to a washing machine, which he then loaded . . . then unloaded into a dryer . . . then unloaded on top of the dryer and began folding.
When the PT I was working with returned from wherever-it-was-he-ran-off-to, I asked him, "Who's that?"
"That's So-and-So. She's our OT."
"Our Occupational Therapist."
As the PT walked again and I went back to counting another set of knee bends to the background music of painful groaning, I thought to myself "She's making tea! We're here working, and she's making tea! I WANT TO MAKE TEA!!!"
I began to research Occupational Therapy . . . and everything about it made my soul sing!
Function. Purpose. Meaning. Participation.
Occupational Therapy is the profession that facilitates quality of life despite limitations. We believe in overcoming obstacles . . . to make the impossible possible. We are the unseen cheerleaders, problem solvers, facilitators and advocates. We believe in removing boundaries . . . to make the inaccessible accessible.
Last week the American Occupational Therapy Associated celebrated 100 years of Occupational Therapy as a recognized profession. The month of April has been designated "OT Month" in the US. But OT is for everyone . . . in every nation, in every context.
Over this OT Month, I will be taking a look at what I've learned over the past six years being an OT in Niger, west Africa. A context as different from where I come from as possible . . . yet, fundamentally, people are the same. We have the same needs, the same desires.
Stay tuned for more on what the Areas of Occupation look like in Niger.