By Donna Bzdil, OTR/L, CMH Rehab Manager
Anyone who knows me knows I love my profession. I can talk for hours about occupational therapy. I have been at CMH for two years now. Over my 32 years of being an occupational therapist, I have had the chance to work with individuals at all ages who have a variety of illnesses or diseases. Although people who see occupational therapists usually have a diagnosis, occupational therapy is generally focused on the limitations the patients have due to the diagnosis. If someone cannot do the things they love or needs to be independent, it is an occupational therapist who will look at those activities of daily living and find a way to help that person return to those tasks.
Occupational therapy was not my first thought when I went to college. I love to draw, so graphic design was the path I started after high school. But all my paths pointed to healthcare. A friend going to physical therapy assistant school encouraged me to look at physical therapy. Then I saw the occupational therapy curriculum and never looked back. Occupational therapy’s base is looking at the whole person and is very patient-centered, which is what I love, empowering people. The occupational therapist-patient relationship is really a partnership to help the patient recover and return to life skills.
As I look at my career, I have many favorite moments, but this one hits home for me. When I was a young therapist, I worked for a children’s hospital in Philadelphia. I saw many children with an array of issues. One day, a five-year-old boy came to the hospital in a coma after being hit by a car. During the evaluation, he would open his eyes to startling sounds or tactile stimulation, but he had no verbal responses, tracking with his eyes or motor movements.
After training the nursing staff on how to position and setting up a sensory program they could use with him while at the hospital, I left to go home. The next day, I worked with physical therapy to have him sit up and presented him with various types of sensory stimulation: aromas of his favorite food, cold ice cubes on his cheeks, various lights and sounds, etc. While he was supported on a mat table, he would open his eyes to all the stimulus, but close them again after 30-40 seconds. By the afternoon session, we were at it again, and this time, he opened his eyes and said “pudding.”
I know he was crying and so was his mom. That was his first word since the accident, and with a little pudding on his lips, he licked them clean. From that point on, he made daily improvements and walked out on the day of discharge talking and laughing. I will never forget that little boy. To think that I was a part of his recovery was a fantastic feeling.
I love my profession, and I love nature, too. Get me out on my bike, hiking in the woods or kayaking in the river, and that brings me joy. That is my goal as an occupational therapist — to bring joy into or back into someone’s life and make the impossible possible. Happy Occupational Therapy Month!
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