“Healing is a very personal experience.” I found this observation on the internet somewhere and saved it—it gave me a new way to look on my experience here at Orchard Creek and on the journeys of my companions. The very purpose of the OC facility is healing: all of us here know that once our physical capacity is increased, we can leave here: we are all on a healing mission, and we all intend to leave this place. That makes Orchard Creek quite a different environment than ‘old folks homes’: we have a reason for being here and it’s far different than the passivity of just living until the end of our lives.
As I looked about me at my OC companions, I began to observe them in the light of their personal healing journey. I think about us right now, awaking early in the morning, facing a new day. I know myself that some ‘new days’ are bleak: I lie in bed, hurting, reluctant to begin another step toward the end of this. I am thankful for my personal coach, Debby Werthmann, who anticipated this problem, and gave me a digital voice recorder. I then recorded 20 minutes of affirmation statements, which are there for me whenever I need a little boost (or even a big one).
For other residents, facing the new day is also difficult. For some, the obstacles are physical: when you are handicapped, a shower is a huge and draining undertaking. For the depressed, morning rituals of washing and brushing seem senseless and futile. And for some, like Bob, singing and laughter is the answer.
Even as I write this, I hear the aides moving down the hall, knocking on doors, opening them, and calling out “Good Morning, Lucille. It’s seven o’clock.” In every instance there is a moment of conversation and easy laughter before the aide moves on to the next door, leaving behind a friendly welcome into the day.
In her article “For Free Healing Learn How to Laugh”, Debbie Mandel says “Laughter has wonderful physiological benefits. Doctors call humor the inner treadmill as it has benefits similar to exercise. To name a few: Problem-solving ability is enhanced by laughter because it helps the brain to de-stress and do its work without distraction. Laughter also provides an important relief for those of us suffering from pain through the release of endorphins. In addition laughter improves respiration, increases the number of immune cells, lowers blood pressure and decreases the likelihood of a second heart attack. Certainly, nothing to sneer at!”
I’ve often remarked in this blog about the laughter at Orchard Creek. I know that whenever I do go home, I will miss being awakened by laughter at the nursing station at 2 AM. It’s a delightful experience, to wake up to the sound of happy people! It’s something that doesn’t happen at home—if I do wake up it’s to the sound of a snoring Portuguese Water Dog stretched out beside my bed.
Some patients here never laugh: I suspect they are the ones who have never laughed in their lives. Petunia (I made up that name) is one. She does smile, but it’s one of those automatic face-arranging gestures which says “I must be pleasant to the riff-raff around me”. In no way does her smile indicate genuine happiness and fun. Nor is she recovering quickly: she’s been here over two months and nurses her pain like a favorite child.
Each of us must embark on recovery in our own way, fighting our private battles and embracing what works for us. Petunia embraces pain—it insulates her from returning to the ‘real’ world. Howard, on the other hand, needs enablers: he’s the one who shouts “Nurse! Nurse!” and then in a pitiful voice whines, “Can somebody please help me?” This morning outside the dining room, he tried this technique to get back to his room. One of the aides said, “Just roll your chair down the hall to your room, Howard.” His reply: “I have to do this by myself?” Yes, Howard, you do.
Bob sings, Ed talks and analyzes, Roseanne paints, I write blogs. In our individual ways, we are traveling our private healing paths. And as coach and author Judith Cornell suggests, laughter really is our best companion.