When I grow up…

24 Feb

Maggie and Elizabeth

I’ve worked in hospitals and nursing homes for a lot of years.  First as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) in the late 70’s and early 80’s and then as a PTA (physical therapy assistant) since 1996.  As a PTA I love the challenge of getting my patients to do physical therapy.  As anyone who’s ever had PT can tell you it’s hard work.  And not everyone is interested in working hard.
At lunch time a few months ago, I mentioned to my co-workers that my wife thinks I’m the sneakiest and most manipulative person she knows, but luckily I use my powers for good and not evil.  “That’s what makes us good therapists,” they all said through snorts of laughter as they started to relay their own sneaky and manipulative tricks.  I learned a few new tricks that day.  I love it when I get to collaborate with other Rehab professionals!
I’ve worked with veterans from World War I  to Vietnam and from all branches of the service including the Women’s Army Corp from World War II.  I’ve treated waitresses, physical therapists, mechanics, policemen and even an honest to God rocket scientist.  I think because my profession is so hands on and the patients and therapist have to work so closely together to get the desired results it can create an intense bond.  Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years have been remarkable.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in my Grandparents’ house or maybe because I’m such a history buff but I like hanging out with the elderly.  The older and feistier the better.  I figure feisty is how they got there!  And the over 90 crowd are my absolute favorites.  To some of them, I’m just this young whippersnapper of a woman (I’m 55 for crying out loud) trying to boss them around.
Besides as one old man said, “I’m 96 you know, I don’t need any of this foolishness.”  A few minutes later I had him standing up working on his standing tolerance and balance.  Six minutes after that he said to my dog Frankie “just a few more tosses, young fella,” as he let go of his walker to take the ball and throw it again.  Like I said–sneaky and manipulative!
Recently, I got to work with a 99 year old woman who I had treated over a month before.  When I’d last seen her she could only toss the ball to Zelda a few times from her wheelchair before tiring.  She’d had hip surgery a few weeks earlier and was restricted to putting weight on one leg while standing.  Now she was walking and getting ready to go home later in the week.  The first thing she said to me was “How are your dogs”?  I let her know both of us had had our haircut the week before and pulled out my very small iPod nano and showed her the  picture of Frankie.  Both of us just kind of shook our heads at that tiny piece of technology sitting in the palm of my hand.  Me because I remembered listening to a reel to reel tape recorder as a youth.  And her because she was a teenager when the Great Depression started and who had money for anything?  Even most pocket watches weren’t that small!
Most people in the US are afraid of growing old.  Our society is obsessed with youth and so many dye their hair, use botox or have plastic surgery to “keep their looks” and equate that with staying young.  But staying young really is in the heart and mind… as so many of my “old” patients remind me.  The link I’m putting here is for a TV commercial but that’s not why I’m linking to it.  It’s a song by Michelle Shocked called “When I grow up I want to be an old woman” .  Ignore the fact that it’s an advertisement and LOOK at the beautiful faces of these old women.  ‘Cause I don’t know about any one else… but that’s what I wanna be when I grow up!
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