Defining Moment Achieving Peak Bloom The joys of gardening and eldercare. By Cheryl Till, PT | June 2019 Listen to 'Defining Moment' I admire beautiful gardens. I love to dig in the dirt, and to spread and smell the new mulch. I routinely transplant bulbs to better places in the yard. I prune dead branches and eagerly await the regrowth. I even enjoy weeding. The process of gardening is a lot like tending the human body. It's a challenge. And I love challenges. An early mentor in my life asked, "How old do you want to be when you die?" I didn't even have to think about it—my response was "Ninety-six!" Never mind that I didn't even know anyone over 80. It's interesting, too, that I'd end up serving older adults in my work. No one in my family ever broke a bone when I was growing up, much less saw a physical therapist (PT). So, how did I become one? Over 40 years ago, I investigated the physical therapy department in my town's small hospital to learn more. I saw the bustle of activity as PTs worked 1-on-1 with patients. I knew within 10 minutes that this was the path for me. That was the first of many defining moments in my life. A seed had been planted. I was blessed for many years to have another mentor—a more-experienced PT who challenged me to look beneath the presentation of my patients and to see the whole person, regardless of age or their present fragile state. I then experienced fragility myself, enduring a difficult pregnancy to bring twins into my garden—who would grow into beautiful perennial blooms. Years later, the 3 of us decided to take taekwondo together. In the process of training for my purple belt, I badly strained my psoas muscle. After 9 months of rest and retraining, I was able to earn the belt. In fact, my twins and I went on to earn first-degree black belts! Those experiences with patience, hard work, and the cumulative power of incremental progress planted more seeds in my maturation as a PT. Humor was a nutrient along the way. I volunteered to be a hospital clown, providing a few minutes of laughter or diversion to those hospitalized. It was another defining moment. Those experiences fed my compassion and heightened my ability to appreciate life in the present—even when dealing with patient issues such as incontinence was part of the job. These were qualities that would become vital in the area of practice in which I was increasingly involved—geriatric physical therapy. I yearned to provide a refuge of cooling shade and the colorful fall foliage of patience, humor, and compassion to all the flowers who were growing in my garden. Mrs C was 72 years young and didn't want to exercise. She'd never exercised in her life, so why start now? But she did want to talk and be heard—by her family, for example, who wanted her to get stronger and stop falling. Patient choice versus family hope, could I walk successfully through the garden with both parties? Yes! This started a tap root journey to my becoming a board-certified clinical specialist in geriatric physical therapy. I very much wanted to better understand, and assist in weathering, the storms of the geriatric journey for all of my blooms—and for my own parents, as well. Preparing for the board exam in geriatric physical therapy—and becoming a certified exercise expert for aging adults—improved my ability to determine the root causes of the issues my patients were experiencing. And to best serve blooms who would not return the next year, as well. Rocky's sister lovingly cared for him in his last days. I taught her how to properly turn him, so as not to harm herself or him. I helped her make her brother's final days as full and pain-free as possible. This experience illustrated to me that life is sacred—offering valuable lessons to the last for both giver and receiver. It definitely was a defining moment. Andy, 80 years young, and Bob, 65, are more recent blooms in my garden. Andy had never been a patient in a hospital or had a broken bone. But then he found himself planted in my garden, postoperative for a hip fracture. Together, we improved his strength and range of motion. We worked to ease the trauma inflicted on his body and mind. Andy now smiles and has returned to playing golf. Bob started losing feeling in his feet due to idiopathic neuropathy. His function worsened when his big toe became infected. After prolonged immobility he could barely walk. He had to hold onto cabinets to brush his hair. He was unable to balance sufficiently to hold his granddaughter's hand and walk up the stairs. Perhaps worst of all, he was beginning to accept this new lifestyle. But then Bob attended a lecture I was giving on the benefits of exercise on all body systems during the aging process. He clung to hope that I could help him. He shared his goals and said he was ready to get working. He certainly made good on that pledge. Within 3 months Bob was walking distances of more than a mile. He had more or less given up hope of returning to his passion—juggling—but he indeed did return to it. Our work together in therapy also allowed him to return to employment. Guess what he does now? He teaches adults with special needs to juggle—even though he still is unable to feel anything below his knees. "You changed my life!" he told me. Another defining moment. The human body is an awe-inspiring and beautifully created work of God. With hope and dedication, it can weather storms, and blossom. I look at my own tree today. Its roots of patience, love, humor, compassion, and lifelong learning run deep. I'm teaching myself what living as an older adult looks like, and I'm taking the advice I've long given to my patients. Love is strong, and properly stewarding the body that God gave me allows me to best reach my own potential and better serve my patients. I am grateful on many levels for the all of the seeds and nurturing support that led me to an enriching career in physical therapy. My garden and all that is within it is beautiful. I will continue to be a tree of hope and blessing to everyone I serve as a PT.