For the past three months I have been doing my occupational therapy fieldwork at AltaMed. It is a program targeted at Hispanic seniors (over 55). I realized that I had yet to mention what took so many of my hours and days this summer. I guess I could start at the beginning. My first day I got there and realized that they weren't lying when they said that 90% of the patients spoke Spanish. Funny that they didn't tell me this before I signed up for this facility because I don't speak Spanish. Two years of high school Spanish will only get you so far. So the first day was overwhelming to say the least. I met my clinical instructor, Quanita, and was immediately thrown into things. They were short-staffed that day and didn't really have time to train us much. Needless to say, when I got home after the first day I began to count down the days until it was over. I didn't know how I would possibly be able to treat patients when I couldn't even speak to them. I began to listen to podcasts of Spanish lessons every day when I got home from work. I was pretty sure that I would never learn Spanish and never learn who all our patients were.
It was a very unique setting where none of the patients had appointments. They all came to the center and were just there and could choose whether or not they wanted to come to occupational therapy or they could refuse to come if they wanted. We had a list of people who were technically on OT for each day, but whoever wanted to come in could. All the patients just sit out in a big dining hall area and we were responsible to go and get the patients and bring them in to therapy. Well it's kind of hard to go and get people when you don't know who they are. Everyone had name tags on but it's a little awkward to go around staring at the small print on their chest trying to figure out who they are. So the first week was overwhelming.
Fast forward to week 6. First of all I passed my mid-term evaluation! I really wasn't worried, but it was nice to know that I was doing a good job. By this time I was treating all my own patients and even managed to be able to converse with them briefly in Spanish. My main phrases were things like "Tiene dolor?" "Necessita compressa caliente?" "Necessita ayuda con vestirse, banarse, etc." But by the middle of the summer I was able to understand a lot of what people were saying even though I couldn't really say much.
Friday was my last day at AltaMed. I felt happy and a little bit sad. I had triumphed and was able to complete two assessments in Spanish all by myself. For someone who twelve weeks ago couldn't say much at all this was an accomplishment. I now know the names of almost all the OT patients and many more who come in daily. Most of all I was able to actually form relationships with the patients even though we had a language barrier. I never thought I would be sad to leave people after 3 months. All in all it was a great learning experience. It was a perfect environment to learn things in and become confident in myself as a therapist. I still have much to learn, but it was a good start.
Things I will miss:
-Working with Grupo de Armistad (the group who has Alzheimer's). Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons Lucy, the other student, and I would work with usually 4-5 of the patients from Grupo. We did things like make maracas, play musical instruments, balloon volleyball (I think our greatest success), bowling, theraputty, and others. Even though one of the patients asked me every time what my name was and didn't really remember anything about us they still lit up whenever we went in to get them. I think I will miss them the most.
-Walking through the dining hall and having all the patients say hi and wave and ask how things are going.
-Having patients come in and bring bracelets, candy, and other things to show their appreciation for us.
-The BBQs we would have out in the hacienda every once in a while on Friday afternoon.
-Cooking group. We made great chicken and rice, smoothies, fruit salad.
-Several patients who always came in being so grateful for everything we did for them.
-Quanita, Aileen, Annette, Elsa
Things I will not miss:
-The numerous flies always found on the floor in the morning.
-The computer that took 28 minutes to start up some mornings. (Someone stole some of the memory out of it during the first month we were there. Surprisingly it's had problems since then.)
-The FREEZING occupational therapy gym. It was always at least 10-15 degrees colder than anywhere else in the building.
-Certain patients who were a little too friendly for comfort.
-Friday afternoon at 1:00 when we were done seeing patients and I had nothing to do but still had to be there until 4:30
-One patient who said to me "I'm almost better and then we can get married." He proceeded to want to kiss my hand every time he saw me. Kinda creepy.
-Trying to work with people who had had a stroke 4 years ago and were convinced they were going to get some functional use out of their basically paralyzed limb. It's not gonna come back people. Sorry.
-Leaving at 7:00 every morning to beat the traffic (oh wait I'll have to do that with school too)
Basically it was a great experience. I don't see myself working somewhere like that, I need something more fast paced, but I learned a lot and had a good time for the most part. Now on to bigger and better--school starts again on the 25th. So much for my summer.