Wellness - individual

OT in the ED – one size doesn’t fit all!

Nicole Bensink – occupational therapist

This October marks the 21st year celebrating World Occupational Therapy Day, a profession that has been around since the early 1900s and one that I have been practicing in for over a decade.

Occupational Therapy (OT) in the Emergency Department however, remains an emerging area of OT and so we often get asked the question “What does an OT do?” “How does an OT help our ED perform optimally for our patients? “

I still have some difficulties describing this without saying “we’re like a physio but….” And of course, responding to question of “are you here to find me a job” with a firm no, I don’t do that… The official description by WFOT (World Federation of Occupational Therapy) is “a client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement. (WFOT 2012)”

Now the word occupation is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t just refer to your work but to anything that occupies your time. Occupations can be big (climbing Everest) or small (eating with cutlery), you can love them, or you might just need to do them to get by and one’s meaningful occupation is likely to be different to someone else. So as an OT and in the words of Marie Kondo, I want to know what brings you joy (or what do you need to do in life) and then of course, help you problem solve how you can do it.

Certainly, I don’t get a chance to ask everyone that arrives through the front door about their occupations but the types of patients I do get to see are quite varied. In the ED setting, I can go from assessing and reassuring someone their post-concussion symptoms are normal, to making a thermoplastic splint for a broken finger and my favorite making sure the elderly population make it home safe by completing assessments and referring on to support services. However, with all these people it is still important to know what their meaningful occupations and what impact their presentation to ED might have on them.

Of course, in the busy ED setting I can’t sit with every person and break it down so much “to find someone’s joy”, but patients often enjoy talking a little bit about themselves such as the elderly woman who has just fallen over and broken her wrist, she’s going to struggle to shower herself/ get herself dressed but she’s more worried she won’t be knitting any teddy bears or crocheting any blankets to donate to the red cross anytime soon. Hearing things like this always brightens my day.

By now you might be asking yourself, why have I told you all of this, isn’t’ this a wellness blog?

Well, let met propose an opportunity for us to channel our inner OT and do an assessment to help us reconnect with our own little piece of joy.

  1. What is it you want to do? What are your meaningful activities?
  2. Why aren’t you able to do it?
  3. What are the barriers to this? (Are they related to yourself (physically/ mentally) / the environment (access)/ the task (is there another way or an alternative that would satisfy you equally))
  4. What alternative choices do you have? Think of some solutions
  5. Lets set a (SMART) goal!

At the end of the day as individuals, you know you best, you know what is achievable and realistic and are in the best position to have an honest conversation with yourself.

Sometimes though we just need a little help as the weight of an “injury” can impact on your ability to clearly see the end goal.

Unfortunately, in the ED we rarely get to see the end outcome for each person we see despite all the work we put prioritizing someone’s needs. But just like our patients all have their own stories us ED workers have our own stories.

So next time, I dare you to put your OT hat on and ask the question what brings me joy, what are my barriers and how am I going to solve them. Understanding the narrative only helps us to ensure the story can be continued to be written.

About Nicole Bensink

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