2017 PFIG Recipient Caroline Beck
Journal Entry #1
My first month working at Supportive Living Inc. (SLI) has been more satisfying and challenging than I could have possibly imagined. As an intern, I spend an extensive amount of time getting to know each one of the residents living at the four live-in facilities that SLI runs. In particular I have been working with Helen, a 78-year-old woman recovering from her most recent stroke, and Donald, a 55-year-old male also recovering from a stroke and a seizure disorder. Each of these two individuals experience very different repercussions from their injuries along with their unique personalities. They’ve greatly increased my knowledge of the brain and how it responds and adapts to injury, as well as taught me the importance of working in public service.
Donald, before his injury, was a grocery store manager struggling heavily with alcoholism that proceeded to end his professional career along with his relationship with his wife of 10 years. After his stroke, he suffered from limited mobility on the right side of his body including fine motor skills along with aphasia (the inability to read/understand written language). After being placed into a nursing for many years, Don was moved to SLI and began work on walking and gaining strength again. During fitness, I work with Don to increase his confidence in walking along with strengthening the muscles of his right side. Cognitively, Don has problems with memory and speech stuttering but is typically able to complete full thoughts when given the chance to do so, however he still suffers from seizures from time to time. Furthermore, using tracing and word cards, I am assisting Don in re-learning how to read.
Helen is another patient that I work with on a regular basis. On the outset she appears to have little to no cognitive or physical disabilities following her stroke earlier this year. Her most prominent mental problem is survivor’s guilt for being so physically capable which can sometimes lead to depression. However she works extremely hard and accomplished both her goals over the past 4 weeks, standing up without using her hands to support and spending 5+ minutes on the treadmill.
The most interesting part of this internship so far has been trying to understand the mechanisms of the brain. One of the common themes among the residents I work with is their love for chess. Many of these survivors of massive brain injuries are unable to remember my name within a few minutes of my saying it. However, when an intern plays a resident in chess, they are able to remember the moves each piece can make and establish a strategy to win. Oftentimes they actually beat the intern. It has been incredible to observe that which the brain is able to hold onto after a trauma and that which is damaged. Supportive Living Inc. and those who live there have opened my eyes to the world of brain trauma along with educated me in the value of patience, determination, and hard work to achieve a goal.
Journal Entry #2
As I continue working at Supportive Living Inc, I fall more in love with the work I am privileged enough to do. While I continue to run fitness with new four new patients, I have also taken on projects of my own within the organization. Our nutrition research group has completed a pilot menu to replace the current meal plan at one of the four residential houses I work in. This new plan has been created in through individual research on diet and brain injuries along with collaboration from the Boston University nutrition department. The menu will be implemented in the next few weeks with the hopes of shifting the diet of the residents to increase their overall health. Additionally, I, along with a few other interns, have started to hold healthy cooking classes with the residents each Friday morning. This has given them the opportunity to practice fine motor skills through cutting, stirring, and measuring in addition to life skills that allow them more independence and confidence. The classes also give the residents a chance to see a healthy meal being cooked and incentives them to eat healthier since they took part in creating the meal.
Besides nutrition, I also continue working with resident Don on his reading. The challenge lies in his desire to memorize words as opposed to understanding the letters and the sounds they make; he has trouble reasoning the word out through phonetics. With the help of some iPad apps and 1st grade word cards, we work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on helping him learn the sounds combinations of letters make so that he can read street signs, menus, newspapers, and other important documents necessary when leading an independent life. It has been far more challenging than I could imagine to teach someone to read even though they can speak flawlessly. The brain is incredible in its ability to remain completely functional in some tasks while incapable in others. As a future medical practitioner, working so intimately with these various injuries is such a unique and valuable experience.
Although I have only been working at SLI for a few weeks, I know that I have formed connections with both my fellow interns and the residents/patients we work with that will remain with me forever. The feeling I have when a resident even so much as remembers my name shows that they value us the same way we value them. With only four weeks of summer remaining, the quickly approaching end of my time at SLI will not be well received.
Journal Entry #3
Summarizing 10 weeks at my internship at Supportive Living Inc., has proven to be a nearly impossible task. I learned valuable skills for a future career as a medical professional including listening skills, patience, the enigmatic ways in which the brain works just to name a few. The opportunity to work hands one with patients as an undergraduate student is rare and that privilege is not lost on me. Additionally, I learned flexibility, quick thinking, and problem solving all of which are essential for the workforce in my future. Despite all of these important skills, what I learned most during my time with Supportive Living was the importance of human connections and friendship. In many ways, SLI showed me the gaps in how we are taught to interact with one another and the benefits of relationships.
Each day when I walked into SLI, I was greeted by a plethora of TBI/ABI residents who remembered me. For people with brain injuries, this is such an important step in maintaining their brain functioning. Even if they could not come up with my name, they asked about my upcoming school year and my family knowing important details about my life. During fitness, our largest program, much of the reason that patients came to work out with us was due to the social atmosphere created in the fitness center. Between the TBI survivors there is minimal conversation; however, when young, enthusiastic interns are added to the equation, not only do they light up and interact with us, but they interact with each other as well. People who had been known to be hostile and anti-social smiled when they saw us come to work each morning. Often, they would even choose to spend their lunch time with us as well. Being able to share an in-person relationship with people who respect and care about them and are willing to listen.
Finally, my respect and understanding for people with disabilities has improved so much since the beginning of my internship. Having spent such an extended amount of time with these patients everyday, I understand that their main desire in life is to be listened to and treated with compassion. It is easy to disregard them as being unable to function at the same capacity we function at. However, by doing so we belittle their progress and their ability to be an active participant in society. If you see someone with a disability, give them a smile and wave to let them know that you acknowledge them as being valuable and worthwhile.
This internship was one of the best experiences of my life and I am beyond excited to return in the winter to visit and check on the people who made my summer one to remember. Thank you so much to the Parents’ Fund for making all of this possible.