I wonder every now and then, maybe too often, what other versions of my self might have looked like, don't you? What if I had actually gotten the notification of my acceptance to the school for Ergotherapy in Zuerich, Switzerland?
One thing would be sure, I would not find myself in the financial pickle I am in now. But in the seventies there were no cell phones, there was no internet and keeping in touch was a whole lot more challenging, especially through international borders. Phone calls used to be very expensive and were not indulged in frequently. It's all water under the bridge now. I have no illusions, working within any Swiss institution would have proven nothing but challenging for me.
I was a natural though at rehabilitation and had done outstanding work (if I may say so myself) in three different psychiatric settings when still in my teens. No doubt the glowing reports from an ergo therapist and co-worker had opened the opportunity for me, then an untrained, but very enthusiastic nurses aid, to get on a professional therapeutic track that would not involve open wounds and needles such as would have been required in nursing. I really loved working as a nurses aid, loved looking after the needs of others such as their intimate care as in bathing, grooming, and feeding. Of course, I took a particular interest in their psychological care. With a wide open mind, I inquired about their thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
In a closed area for the chronic schizophrenics at a progressive psychiatric institution outside Zuerich, I took the afternoon coffee group as an opportunity. I directed their conversation away from me and towards each other and the results were amazing. Those men in their thirties and forties started to wonder aloud what schizophrenia just might be! Signs of life started to show were there seemed only dullness, it was awesome to behold.
One mute, rather cute looking younger guy blossomed from total withdrawal (rocking in a corner by himself, initiating contact only with a touch of the back of his hand to one other guy) to excited participation in the application of color, to thinking for himself and correcting an image that hung askew and to helping me with the laundry and the opening and closing of doors, all the while grinning from ear to ear.
I loved to engage patients with chores, rather than have them sit around and stare into space. I got flack for it too. Ah, the small minded, mid-level personnel that wants to follow the rules to the letter and insists to stay task-oriented on cost of the well-being of real people! During rare sunny afternoons they wanted me to put away the laundry, rather than take a small and able group out for walks and talks. When I mentioned the excessive sugar intake by one of our women that did have a tendency to violent outbreaks, the nurse got nightmares from what she considered inappropriate observations coming up from the lower rank, me. Of course, this was long before there were scientific studies that linked consumption of sugar to hyperactivity and the like.
Likely I was the first in all of Switzerland to introduce Tai-chi to some of those in my charge. I initiated all kinds of activity to open the breath and foster grounding. I did this too with my Dad in his last years. These days breath therapists are a common element of a therapeutic team. I remember too giving a thorough hand massage to one very old and very brittle lady, a former sales woman of silk in a very fine traditional Swiss establishment (Grieder) whose fist had closed up on her. Massage therapy had not yet been recognized officially in its many therapeutic applications.
There was the time too when a fever had broken out and I had to stick those thermometers into various orifices, followed by the application of suppositories anally. I stayed at the bedsides determined not to get sick. It seemed that I had former life times of practice, it seemed so natural to care and to do what was needed. But I never wanted to become a nurse. They had far less opportunity to be with patients, but they needed to occupy themselves with management, meetings and of course the pharmacopeia of magical pills I so abhor. Yes, there was too a time when as a nurses aid in Switzerland I distributed the pills as it then was part of my job and inadvertently gave a dosage of ten times the strength of morphine to one patient, due to an error of proper preparation by the attending nurse. Luckily I recognized the trouble, realized that this patient suffered uncommon hallucinations and reported them along with vital medical information to the doctor.
Eventually, I did enter the therapeutic field as a professional in my practice as a massage therapist and aquatic bodyworker. I always considered relaxation only the beginning of a successful therapeutic treatment. I was fortunate to work outside institutions, one-on-one, on my own schedule. Blessed in many ways one may still wonder, what if?