Listen-not for the sake of hearing a person, but in an effort to see him.

I have always been a dreamer.  Everything in life has deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface, and all we are is connected with all we do by some invisible thread of purpose.  I spent a lot of time in college trying to figure out this purpose.  There was no doubt in my mind that I had chosen the right field to major in, but my purpose for choosing Occupational Therapy was often lost in the mechanical nature of the classes and labs I was trudging through on my way to that degree.  I went straight to work after graduating and loved being a therapist from the first patient, a young autistic boy who spent the entire treatment session reciting the morning news from memory.  Diagnoses were no longer just words on a page.  They were faces of people who bore their titles.  It wasn’t about knowing how to use therapy to treat a disease but how to treat a person with the disease.  Even when I married and began having children, I hung on to my profession, if only part time, for a while.   Then, for nearly ten years, I laid down my therapist hat and became a full time mother dedicated to homeschooling three children who knew me as nothing but “mom”.


When my husband first approached me with the idea of homeschooling our children, I had just starting practicing Occupational Therapy in the home health setting and loved it.  It wasn’t a hard decision, however, to put it aside to teach our children.  Still, there were times when I feared I would never work as a therapist again.  Nine years later, when I decided to start seeing patients again part time to help pay for our daughter’s college while, at the same time, continuing to teach our boys, I knew home health was the setting I wanted to return to.  It didn’t take me long to find a position and settle back in to my role as a therapist.


Now, I spend two days a week going from house to house seeing patients then spend the other three week days teaching my boys.  When I can grab a little free time, I write stories inspired by the people and places I come in contact with on the job, which takes me to places I wouldn’t otherwise go and introduces me to people I would have never met on my own.  Some days I am able to see as many as eight patients, while other days I spend half of my time driving around in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of nowhere searching for addresses that not even my GPS can find.  I travel along roads laid out like ribbons, winding around landscapes of trees and small towns, to secluded houses.  Wooden crosses adorned with faded silk flowers dot the sides of the road like road map landmarks, displayed proudly, as if death were something sought after on these God forbidden back roads.


I show up at doors with my bag full of therapy equipment-exercise programs, weights, and theraband-never knowing if I will be received by patients hungry to get better or those who only resent the intrusion into their scheduled days of game shows and naps.  Regardless of how the patients receive me, I treat them all the same. I ask questions, look them in the eyes, and listen.  Even the most bitter of my patients will talk if I point at any one of the photos hanging on crowded walls or end tables and ask about the people behind the glass frames.  Often, half of my time with a patient is spent just letting him talk.


There was the 102 year old lady who, when asked what her secret was to living so long replied,


“Well, I don’t know, I just kept living.”


Then, there was the multiple sclerosis patient, bed bound for the past three years, who, when asked if she experiences any pain replied,


“No, I have been so blessed to never experience pain with my disease.”  Then, upon finding out that I have fibromyalgia begins to tell me how bad she feels for me and others who suffer from the condition.   She, a nurse who had been sentenced to a future of lying in bed all day while life moved around her and past her, felt bad for me.  


I’ve heard that success in life is finding something you love and figuring out how to get paid for it.  I get to help people heal physically, but I find the most joy in just letting them talk and listening to them-really listening.  I get to see people rejoice over the simple things in life, like being able to get into their tubs again or cook their own meals.  I get to see their eyes light up when they are asked about children raised or jobs that once defined who they were but are now no more than certificates on walls or uniforms collecting dust in closets.  There are the tears swiped away in embarrassment as a lost child is brought back to life for a moment simply through words spoken and an eager ear to listen.


There are so many people who make a home health agency work.  There are the social workers who sit behind desks decorated with family photos and computer screens, indirectly making things happen for patients, and there are the therapy coordinators.  The doctors fill out prescriptions for therapy evaluations and the lady at the front desk hands out checks every two weeks.  To them, patients are names on paperwork and voices on phones.  They care, but they don’t know. They have no idea what it is like to be out there “in the trenches” with patients who invite us into their homes and become real to us as we watch them heal physically and mentally.  From these trenches, stories are born that will allow my readers to go with me-along those winding back roads and into homes where the real battles are fought.




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