Last year, I had a remarkable opportunity to change my life and I took it. I reached out to a friend I had once volunteered for, asking her if her organization was accepting volunteers during the pandemic. I had decided not to return to my full-time job as a middle school paraprofessional and was looking for something to do maybe 2 times a week. She responded quickly, “No, but there is a job opening that would be perfect for you.” JOB, I thought? As in, 5 days a week with responsibilities, deadlines, stress, conflict, exhaustion at age 55 kind of job? To be honest, an unexpected opportunity is the way every wonderful thing has happened in my life. As scared as her response made me, my gut instinct was to move forward and maybe take the leap.
I became a Rehab Assistant in a Pediatric & Adolescent Medical Rehab with absolutely no significant knowledge of the types of conditions the patients have or the therapies they receive. I only knew how a Mother’s heart would communicate with the children and families and support the therapists providing the services. It’s been the greatest professional experience of my life. I work with wonderful, dedicated people who spend their lives working to make life easier for children with disabilities and their families. As part of the team, my role in the pandemic is managing communication between caregivers and therapists. I greet the families outside the gym where the children are treated, listen to their concerns and bring them to the therapists back inside the gym at the beginning of the day. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a communication barrier between anxious families and their children’s rehabilitation therapists and my role has been to provide a sort of “Momma Love Glue” in the situation. At least this has been my interpretation of my role this year- and nobody has complained yet.
Who else can say they actually get paid to love? To my delight, in spite of the enormous challenges of working in an intensely physically and emotionally draining environment, I go home each day with a deep satisfaction from giving everything I have and know to help people inside and outside the gym succeed. And that’s where the original thought for this post comes from: my daily journey between these two worlds. Outside the gym, where families are sitting with their concerns and perhaps taking a few minutes’ respite as their children receive treatment inside the gym. Inside the gym, where rehabilitation professionals labor to make progress each visit with patients who are sometimes sleep deprived, cranky and uncooperative.
Last week, as I reached to assist a boy with cerebral palsy walk into the gym, his Mom offered a gentle reminder: “Remember: Be good. Work hard. Have a good time.” Her son repeated his Mom’s words enthusiastically as he set off to join his friends in our summer day camp. 12 hours later, after tumbling into my bed exhausted, I woke up, tearful, as I often do, at the memory of that precious scene I had the privilege to witness the day before.
Inside the gym, on this same day, I realized I had created a mess of our schedule by overlooking a couple of teammates’ vacations. Suddenly, because of my poor organizational skills, we were scrambling to make a plan to provide a safely socially distanced and supervised lunch for our patients. Inside the gym, our daily challenge as a team is to solve problems quickly so therapy can continue moving forward. We pivot a lot! So much my head is spinning sometimes (I literally have vertigo this summer). In all these pivots that sometimes my oversights have caused, NOT ONCE has a teammate judged, harshly criticized or humiliated me. My friend, our social worker, smiles and says to me, in my frustration, “Use your resources, Joan.” And that I have.
Last week I got to plan a tie-dye party for some of our adolescent patients. My husband dug out a tarp from our garage (he’s been a silent part of the team!) and I gathered some pillowcases and t-shirts for the kids to choose between for their colorful creations. Fortunately, I had a young volunteer who calmly accepted my plea to read through the instructions and provide the kids some structure (not my thing!) so they could finish the project in less than an hour. When it was over, and each kid had their project properly labelled and put away for the weekend to dry, I was flooded with another rush of awareness that my job has been to bring love and fun in an otherwise intense situation for children and families. Tomorrow, I get to be there to enjoy the scene as the kids take the rubber bands off their tie-dye projects. Tomorrow I get to love again.