Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How Wilma Learned to Walk

Wilma at the Parade 
When I first heard of Wilma’s life long relationship with Chinook Lands, I had what could only be described as a moment of sheer grace. She had given so much to this place that had been a healing place for so many, she deserved care now when she needed it most. My heart responded and I agreed to help Wilma during the day to stay in her home. What followed was a miracle.
The first time I met Wilma, she was holding court in her Brookhaven Apartment. Wilma had just learned that she was no longer able to be cared for by Island Home Nursing, the local agency providing aides. Because she couldn't stand and the bathroom was too small for her wheelchair. If she couldn't find someone who would care for her, she would have to go to Careage. That meant leaving Langley. Wilma was grieving. 
I became Wilma’s caregiver and personal trainer. I new that if Wilma was to stay in her apartment she had to regain her mobility. It would take more motivation and effort than training for a triathalon. That’s what I told Wilma.
Wilma loved her community so much and wanted to stay close to them so much that she gave it everything she had. In the beginning she ran me ragged. I went to her house 5 to 6 times a day; 3 or 4 of those I were in response to a phone call. That got old really fast. Over the next two years Wilma and I worked together; every day I would stand her up, 5, seconds, 10 seconds, then for longer periods. After a few months we went to physical therapy. When she ran out of medicare, we went to the a gym where we attended an exercise class for people with limited energy three days a week. After much coaxing from me, one day Wilma stood with my help. When she took a step away from the chair, the whole class cheered; then 2 steps, then 3. A couple of months later, she walked along holding the handrail; she was terrified that she would fall but she eventually walked the whole length of the room. Weeks passed. We practiced walking around her apartment. Next she walked around the room holding my arm. A good friend came and remodeled her bathroom, we put poles by her chair, the toilet and the bed, and in the end, Wilma was getting out of her chair by herself, out of bed by herself, transferring into her wheelchair, standing up, putting her clothes on by herself, back to her chair and into her recliner. All of this, Wilma did because all she wanted was to stay here in Langley, with  her friends, her family, her community. Her community kept her involved with the Church and with Whidbey Institute. They scheduled a visit a day and Wilma loved those visits. On Tuesdays we would go to the community lunch in the complex where she lived; on Thursdays Jeff took her to the local soup kitchen for lunch. There came the day when Wilma was ready to go back to the agency that stopped her care because she was too much for their staff. Now she wasn’t; and I was worn out. She couldn't go to exercises any more because she needed someone to accompany her; that was not a service provided by the agency. It wasn't long after that when she fell and broke her arm and finally moved to Careage, a skilled nursing facility. Still her friends made sure she had a ride to church and came back to the community for special events.  When she went to the Careage she was ready; there she was happily loved and cared for until the day she died.
Her community never left her heart. Wilma is the hero in this tale, I had no choice, the call was so strong I had to answer it.
Twenty years earlier, in 1987 I began my dissertation research on nursing home care. The first person I interviewed was a patient named Bill. When I asked my first question. What do people who care for people do for them, Bill burst into tears. “Not enough” was his answer. He had had a stroke. Medicare had just stopped his physical therapy because they said he was no longer making progress. I knew better.
Bill haunted me for those 20 years. No one listened to Bill. They said his tears were a side effect of his stroke. He knew he could do more. Wilma confirmed what I had believed with my whole heart, that with a village of support and motivation, progress doesn't stop after six weeks. Love will move a mountain, and give a gracious gal the strength of a lion.  Amazing Grace really does happens.

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