By Allyson Evelyn-Gustave, OTR/L
By the time 2017 rolls around I will have had the pleasure of working as an occupational therapist for 31 years. I always feel so blessed to have been fortunate enough to be called to a profession that gives me so much satisfaction. A large part of this joy comes from the wonderful clients that have crossed my path and the colleagues I have met along the way. As you could imagine picking one unforgettable client is a huge task as I have been enriched by so many.
A special client comes to mind named “Mrs. T”. She was a participant in the research study I’m currently an interventionist in called CAPABLE. The goal of the study is to help people as they are aging to do so safely in their own homes with an intervention including an OT, RN and a handy man over a four month period.
When I met Mrs. T she was distraught over the state of her home; specifically the dining room and kitchen. She had been taken advantage of by a contractor whom she paid to remodel her kitchen. She handed this man her life savings and he left midway through the renovation, never to return. She had no kitchen cabinets or sink, her appliances were disconnected, and floor unfinished. Everything that was supposed to be in her kitchen now lived in her dining room making it unusable except for storage.
When Mrs. T signed up for the CAPABLE study it had been 3 years since she was exploited and it was still unresolved. She had to wash her dishes in the ½ bath pedestal sink and cook mainly with a microwave. Someone Mrs. T knew was able to move her refrigerator to a corner in the galley kitchen and plug it up for her. She retrieved items for meal prep from various boxes on the floor. This was heart breaking for me to see.
As you could image, Mrs. T was very depressed. Her body posture was slumped and her voice was barely above a whisper. At the beginning of the intervention she was asked what her goals would be. One of her goals was to declutter her dining room so she could sit at her table again to eat. She prided herself on an organized and clean home prior to this mishap. She recalled how she used to host many holiday dinners at her home.
With that said, we got to work. Together we brainstormed ideas to solve her problem. Some strategies included:
- identify what to keep, what to trash and what to donate
- decide what to do with an item when you put your hands on it immediately and then do it
- gather needed supplies to declutter before you start
- designate a time to start
- use a timer to stay focused
Mrs. T and I developed an action plan. Once in place she was given a lot of verbal support. From session to session she managed to get her dining room under control. But she did not stop there. Mrs. T generalized the strategies and organized her kitchen and her basement as well! This was remarkable as the state of these areas were just as overwhelming as her dining room.
Simultaneously, the nurse that was assigned to her case worked diligently with a Baltimore city agency and her daughter to get her kitchen restored. Months later she had her kitchen back. Mrs. T generously provided the entire CAPABLE team with a lovely luncheon to show her gratitude. Her depression appeared to have lifted. She was so grateful and I was blessed to have had the privilege of working with this resilient woman.