This is probably my most favorite non-psych patient story of my career…better than Lloydy on the Toidy and even better than the guy who called my boss and told her how appreciative he was that I got in the shower with him.

It was early on in my tenure with current Job #1 (I’ve been with them since early 2003) and I was assigned this lady who had broken her right humerus, which is the fancy medical name for the long bone that’s between your shoulder and your elbow. The fracture was pretty recent, her right arm was in a sling and, except for moving her fingers, hand and wrist, she was not allowed to do anything with it. And, of course, she was right-handed.

The lady was in her late 70’s or early 80’s and lived with her husband in a one-family home in Central Florida. As what I’ve discovered sometimes happens, especially with people of their generation who were born and raised in the Deep South, he called her “Momma” and she referred to him as “Papa.” Anyway, they were a cute little couple who had been married for a long, long time and you could tell that they were still very much in love.

When doing an Initial Evaluation on a new Home Health patient, a good portion of my job as an Occupational Therapist is to find out how independent a person was before their injury, to see how much help they need now and then devise a way for him or her to become as independent as possible in light of their current and expected (in the not-too-distant future) physical condition. My tools to figure this out are usually a mixture of interviewing and observation of the patient and, as applicable, the caregiver(s).

So I sat with Mrs. Broken Humerus and started asking her questions – what jobs she did around the house before she got hurt (no sense in working on making the bed or doing laundry if a caregiver or a privately paid person always did it), did she used to need any help getting some things done, etc. Not surprisingly, she was a relatively independent person before and needed a lot of help now. I needed to know what was the extent of the assistance she needed now though, so I began asking more specific questions.

Me: “Since you’ve been home, how have you been putting your clothes on and off?”
Her: (very matter-of-factly) “Papa helps me.”
Me: “OK, that makes sense, since your right arm is in a sling and you’re right-handed. But I think I can figure out a way so you’ll be able to get dressed with him giving you less help than he is now. I’ll be able to show you that during one of our future sessions.”

Judging by the expression on her face, I could see that “something” wasn’t right with this – either she didn’t believe or understand that I could really help her increase her independence, or maybe she just liked getting the help, but she didn’t say anything so I ignored “the look” for the moment and kept going.

Me: “I know you said you were doing all of the cooking before you got hurt but what are you guys doing about meals now?”
Her: “Papa is doing it now.”
Me: “And that would make perfect sense, since I know it would be really hard for you to cook with only your left arm. Is he a good cook?
Her: (diplomatically) “Well…he tries hard.”
Me: Well, maybe we can figure out a way so you could get a drink or a snack by yourself, or so that you could at least do some of the prep work in the kitchen, so your husband doesn’t have to do it all himself.” And then I whispered, with a smile, “And maybe since you’d already be in the kitchen, you could give him a few pointers, too.”

Again, she had “that look” but didn’t say anything, so I went on.

Me: “What about taking a shower?”
Her: (very coyly): “Oh, Papa helps me.”
Me: (with a smile on my face) “Now, how did I know you were going to say that? But I bet if we work together, we can figure out a way so you need as little help as possible when you need to take a shower.”

And that’s when that little spitfire looked at me squarely at me in the eye and said in her southern drawl, “Honey, I have been married for 55 years and have now FINALLY gotten that man to take a shower with me. Don’t mess with it!

Yes, ma’am!