How many times have you seen the bumper sticker “I’d rather be fishing” or “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work”? – well, I need to find one for a wheel chair…
Four years ago, our CEO, Bonnie Gauthier said, “I had a thought…” I know that means I should go running from the office, but for some reason I stayed. She gave me the opportunity to manage our recreation department, which would split my attention from my passion of dementia care, but would help the organization with some needed culture change. I knew I could do the job (my first job in health care was in recreation), but my heart was torn. I came up with my pros/cons and shared my ideas with Bonnie. In her usual “go, go, go” fashion, she met all of my conditions (which makes it sound like I really did harsh negotiating… yeah, right). The first suggestion I had was to change the name of the department from recreation to Life Enrichment. Knowing the team of therapeutic recreation directors (TRDs), I knew that’s what they did, what they do – it’s not just about games. It’s beyond bingo. They enrich the lives of the residents, even if those people prefer solitude. Life Enrichment is more than activities – the therapeutic part isn’t always about physical challenge or cognitive fitness. Our clients are mostly over age 80, and they’ve done so many things in their lives. So how can we really enrich their LIVES (as opposed to their life in the moment)? Sometimes it’s about therapy for the soul. We’ve discovered that when we help people with their “bucket lists” (current slang for doing the things one wants to do before he/she “kicks the bucket”), we truly enrich lives.
Enter “Theo” (not his real name). Theo was a rich man – not in wealth but in love. He had many people who cared for him over the years, and he cared for many. He was a Hebrew Health Care volunteer before he became a resident. He is a volunteer still – he helps other residents, his nurses, his aides. He’s a special man. He asks for nothing – he’s a simple person with basic needs. And he’s never been fishing — not ever. He grew up in the CT River Valley and never fished, but always wanted to. Yesterday, he checked off one more thing from his bucket list, thanks to Rob from Plant Operations.
Rob approached us in early spring asking if we would ever think of going fishing. At this point, we are all females in the department and I’m the only one who has ever baited a hook. Sounded like a good idea to us though! Dawn and Marina (two of our TRDs) worked with Rob and a male certified nurse aide and they planned for weeks – they scoped out an appropriate fishing hole, got fishing licenses for all the residents and staff who were going, they rearranged appointments, planned early breakfasts, lunch at a terrific greasy spoon, and we all brought in our extra rods/reels. I even picked up crawlers and worms on my way to work (I had a meeting, so I was dressed for work… got some odd looks… let them wonder). After several days of rain, the sun was shining (fisher-folks will know that’s not ideal conditions for fishing), and out they went yesterday morning. Theo and four other male residents headed out in our bus to a secret fishing spot with a handicapp accessible dock.
After an hour of nibbles, stripping the hooks, guess who caught the first fish? You bet! Theo caught the first of several fish, all of which were tossed back to nibble on another hook tomorrow. On my way out of the office yesterday I saw one of the other gentlemen and his daughter sitting in our garden. He was telling her about his day. She said, “He’s 100 and I’ve never seen him happier” as he told her how big his fish was… “thiiiiiis big.”
But the best part was the joy among the staff! It is intensely rewarding to help someone with his or her bucket list items. I’m convinced there are few greater joys in life. And I’m pretty sure that Rob, Dawn, Darnell & Marina (the staff who coordinated and went on this outing) slept peacefully last night. They brought such delight to the guys with this trip. It was a lot of work to plan, some anxiety beforehand, but it went off without a hitch, with the best outcomes possible – ear to ear smiles on the faces of five men who have given and worked and shared all their lives. That’s the essence of job satisfaction. And that’s Life Enrichment. (Thanks team – you’re wonderful!)