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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - GUEST BLOGGER, OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST CATHY STRASSER

Lois Winston is currently finishing up the third book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries (the books about me.) Some of the story takes place at the Sunnyside of Westfield Assisted Living and Rehabilitation Center. Since many of us have had or will have relatives at a similar facility at some point, health editor Janice Kerr has invited Cathy Strasser to guest blog today about her experiences working at such places.

Cathy is an Occupational Therapist and freelance writer. Her short story “Afterward”, published in the Chrysalis Reader was nominated for the 2007 Pushcart Prize – Best of Small Presses. She has had short stories published in the Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine, r-kv-r-y Quarterly, The Literary Bone, Touched By Wonder Anthology, and was a finalist in the “Family Matters” competition of Glimmer Train Magazine; as well as a two article series in Cabin Life Magazine. Read more about Cathy at her website. -- AP

Whenever I tell someone I work in a nursing home, I get one of two reactions. Either they draw back from me, like it might be catching, or they say, “Really? Why?” Most people seem to think that working in a nursing home – or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) as it’s more accurately called – is a terribly depressing job. I have to say, I’ve always found it to be just the opposite. I’ve worked as an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and worked in over a dozen nursing homes and with only one exception, they’ve been fun places to work.

Why? That’s easy. The people.

Let’s look at the staff first. Working in a nursing home is not something you do for the money or as a gateway to commercial success. But the people who choose to work in this setting are generally cheerful – there’s a lot of laughter in most of the SNF’s I’ve worked in.  I think it’s because it takes a special kind of person to work there, and those that do, have a pretty high level of job satisfaction. Their work matters; and they know it. The residents become a form of large extended family with warmth and affection on both sides.

Then you have the residents. They’re usually not well, often in pain – mental and/or physical – and they’re dependant on others for most of their basic needs. And yet, in spite of all of this, most residents manage to keep both a sense of humor and a sense of self intact that allows them to form close personal relations with the staff. Even the residents with mild to severe dementia manage to maintain that level of person-to-person contact and affection that is hard to understand for those who haven’t experienced it.

When I set out to write my cozy mystery, it seemed natural to set it in a nursing home. ‘Write what you know’ is excellent advice, and I know the nursing home milieu very well and have almost 30 years of stored anecdotes to support it. In my book “Dr. George and Mr. Hyde”, I had two goals, to write an entertaining mystery, and also, to capture the atmosphere of the places I’ve worked and hopefully take away some of the stigma associated with them.

Thanks so much for being our guest today, Cathy. Readers, have you had experiences with assisted living or skilled nursing facilities? Let’s hear from you. -- AP

6 comments:

Liz said...

I would like to commend the dedication of nursing home workers.

Patricia said...

My mother died in 2008 in an SNF and my father-in-law is currently in one as well at 91 years of age. I have spent a lot of time in his SNF and the people are ALL happy and smile and talk to us and seem to love what they do. And I HAVE to read your book. The setting is something I can relate to and writing what you know will shine through your novel. Thank you so much for this post.
Patti

ANASTASIA POLLACK said...

Patricia, as I mentioned above, the third book of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries (the books about me, written by author Lois Winston) is set partially at an assisted living and rehab facility, but that book won't be out until Jan. 2013.

Joanna Aislinn said...

Nice post! As an occupational therapist by day (who spends most of her time in the school setting), I toy with the idea of joining a SNF setting. (Kids are great but sometimes I really miss my grown-ups.) The few facilities I've visited usually did have a very upbeat crowd, staff and patients and/or clients. I'm also excited to come across 'another of my kind' who also writes!

Anonymous said...

I worked four years as a recreational assistant in an assisted living home. I did baking and crafts with the residents and called Bingo and other games. I found it very rewarding and stayed friends with many of the residents after I left for a private post. I still go back to Atria every Saturday and assist my parish priest with Catholic Mass. We're all going to be old someday and I just hope someone comes and bakes with me.

Kathy Nycz

Cathy said...

Liz - thanks for the positive thoughts for people who work in Long Term Care - I know its appreciated!

Patti - so sorry about your Mom but glad your Dad is in a good place. It will be a while until my book is out in print - I'm still looking for an agent - but in the meantime, check out Lois' book in January!

Joanna - During my entire career I've worked in either schools or LTC - I seem to like the two ends of the spectrum. I'm also excited to hear from an OT who writes - feel free to contact me through my personal email which is listed on my website!

Kathy - You are so right about our future, and its up to us to make sure we like what is waiting for us. It is the personal relationships that give back dignity as assure a resident that he/she is still a person who matters. Keep up the good work!