Saturday, July 24, 2010

More Than Just Wiping Bums

It took my dear friend Ruth in Australia to point out to me that there was more going on in my feelings towards my job that just complaining about having to toilet patients and clean up after them when they wet their beds.

(Would you believe that I even learned how to change a bed with a patient still in it?)

My friend pointed out that in my emails I have also poignantly written about my patients, the miracles that I witnessed, and the amazing amount of information that I learned about traumatic brain injuries. She said, "It's obvious that you care about your patients and feel more passion about your job than you realize. I think you should give that some thought."

And I did.

Upon meditating on her words, I realized that she was right. And I realized that I wanted to learn more and become more involved.

So, a few days ago I put in a request to be transferred to the morning shift so that I could have more interaction with the patients, learn more about what goes on, and participate in their treatments and therapies.

(I also had my personal and selfish reasons. I wanted to work on a shift where I could once again have a life - and my weekends off.)

Traumatic brain injuries are a personal issue for me. My husband has experienced multiple head injuries, and there have been recent studies about the cumulative effects of multiple TBIs.

Also, I was raised by a father who suffered a major TBI in the 40s (when there was no such thing as TBI science and research) and who had discharged himself from the hospital before completing his treatment and recovery.

And just a few years ago, I discovered that my mother, too, had a TBI from the same accident that my father was involved in, and that her personality changed as a result of that accident.

Do you know what a mind-blowing concept it was to discover that my sister and I were both raised by brain-damaged parents?

So working at this job is like coming around full circle.

Maybe this job is where I am meant to be - at least for the time being. And as long as I'm at this job, I am going to use it to learn as much as I could so that I, too, could participate in helping miracles unfold, whether it's at work or right under my own roof.

After all, it is no accident that my workplace is often referred to as an "environment of pioneering miracles."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Support - and Effort - Is Everything

I work in a rehab/assisted living facility for patients with post-acute traumatic brain injuries.

Our patients are all examples of how the course of one's life can change, dramatically, in a split second.

Many of them do have full, or as close to full as possible, recoveries. But there are also many whose lives will be permanently changed. They will have to learn to adapt to and live with the new limitations that have been imposed on their bodies and minds.

Each brain injury is as unique as each patient.

Some patients work really hard and make great progress. Some start out making progress, but then give up as the therapies get more challenging.

The road to recovery is very difficult and painful.

There are some patients who do seem to make much effort in the first place. There are some where effort does not seem possible, either through physical or mental means.

And we have also had patients who have surprised us - patients that we thought would not get better but who have managed to make great strides.

One of those patients was the Appalachian hillbilly college history professor who was a passenger in a car that was involved in a serious wreck.

She was a level 3 (requiring 24-hour within arm's reach supervision) for the longest time. The hillbilly prof was confused, not lucid a good part of the time, and not aware of her safety.

She also had mental health issues, which were controlled with medication. After her brain injury, however, they percolated to the top, often making her delusional or downright paranoid.

When the hillbilly prof first came in, we could not even allow her to stand up and walk to the bathroom at night because that would involve having to put on her back brace, which she was supposed to have off at night. We had to give her the bed pan instead.

She had at least 16 surgeries within a month of her accident, some of them being skin grafts.

The hillbilly prof now is walking on her own, and has been for quite some time. She occasionally gets confused and disoriented, but she's nowhere near as bad as she used to be.

Being originally from Appalachia and proud of her hillbilly roots, music is a big thing in the hillbilly prof's life. In addition to being a history professor, she is also a musician, as is her husband (who is also a music professor). A major step in her progress involved her love for music, when she went from sustaining a note for 5 seconds to sustaining one for 25 seconds.
She and her husband were ecstatic.

The hillbilly prof may be getting discharged soon. She may not be able to return to her job as college professor because her brain is still a bit scrambled from the accident. But who knows? Maybe that miracle will happen further down the road.

Like the cowboy, the Appalachian hillbilly prof has come a long way. And like the cowboy, she has had incredible family support. Her husband has been down to the center nearly every day to visit with her and take her out to dinner or bring her back home so that she could enjoy the company of their one million cats.

(Please do read about the cowboy, especially the beginning of the blog that tells you what his story was. Watching the cowboy's progress on the road to recovery is like watching a miracle unfold! His story has got to be one of the most inspiring stories to cross my work's threshold.)

It seems as though the patients with the biggest family support are the ones who make the biggest progress. And that makes me believe that family involvement is a very important component to a patient's recovery.

We had one patient who had very little family support. Part of it could have been that her family lived far away. But even then, they could have called more often. We did have video phones for patients whose families were more than 100 miles away.

She had not seen her kids in 15 - 18 months. In fact, she could not even talk to them on the phone. For some reason, the rest of her family would not permit this patient contact with her kids, which further increased her sorrow.

The patient was wheelchair bound and needed assistance in dressing, bathing, and going to the bathroom.

One of her goals was to be able to put her arms around her kids and hug them.

For awhile, she was showing improvement - increasing the time she was on the treadmill or increasing the distance she was able to walk down the hall without her wheelchair.

What held her back was her fear. She had fallen a couple of times and was afraid that she was going to fall again. She allowed that fear to control her. So eventually, she stopped making the effort that she was making before. The progress that she made stopped and then took several backwards steps.

The patient was discharged and sent to live in a nursing home that was closer to her family.

One cannot help but wonder how far this patient would have gone if she had more family support - if her family was there, urging her on, and urging her not to give up.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sometimes It Pays to Suck At Something

My work had a summer party for its staff and their families today. The party was held at a local bowling hall not too far from where I live.

After sharing a well-intentioned, but less-than-satisfying meal, we were divided into teams of 8 and sent out into the bowling lanes to play.

Now I haven't bowled in decades, and the last time I did, it was with duck pins, not the big-ass pins using the big-ass balls.

And the last time I played, my score was more fitting for golf than it was for bowling. Obama would have easily whooped my butt in bowling.

Well, it was no different tonight.

Out of all the players, I had the lowest score. No big surprise there. I predicted that would happen. But that wasn't all that bad.

You see, there were prizes awarded tonight for the best player and for the worst player. Both of us won $50 gift cards to the Main Event, an entertainment venue that features bowling, billiards, laser tag, arcade games, and other fun stuff to do.

I am especially looking forward to playing laser tag, having played it several years ago at Ariana's friend's b-day party. And the laser tag set up at the Main Event looks a helluva nicer and more cool than the one I played at in Massachusetts.

Laser tag is more my style. Sure it gets the adrenaline going and works up a sweat, but at least it doesn't involve heavy balls. The knuckles on my right hand, especially my middle finger, are still quite sore from hefting those heavy big-ass bowling balls.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Doggie Fun

Today, Kane and I visited my friend Marilyn and her dog Lucy Locket.

This was the first time that the 2 dogs met, but you'd never know it from the fun they had chasing each other.

And after all that hard running, it was time to cool off in the pool.