Calm after the storm

Well, hi, again.

Apparently the last few months have been busy for me (who would have thought…). For any of my OT classmates who read this, congrats! We made it through the last semester. Just a few more short months until freedom!

I’ve been juggling a lot this last while, and my blog has fallen by the wayside evidently. There’s lots to update you all on, so I will give you a quick rundown of where Im at in this wild journey.

  • Im currently working on a research project on MS. Its a beast, and not really my fave thing. Grad school can be a pain 😦 This project kind of makes or breaks our graduation status, so there’s definitely some pressure.
  • 2 of my classmates and I are in the works of meeting with a prof to publish a paper on ALS. Its all very preliminary but its exciting! I want to see that through to fruition, to know I can put in the work to see something like that come together.
  • I was part of a group that put forward a proposal to the World Federation of Occupational Therapy for a paper related to the early childhood intervention work I was involved with in India. This makes me thrilled!! Not because of any personal accolades (there are so many wonderful amazing people involved in this project, that are really doing all the tough work!) but because we have an opportunity to share what is happening at ASSA on a world stage.
  • The up-side to my grad school project is that my schedule is SUPER flexible, which is weird for me… Its strange to have very limited scheduled time. Im working part time nannying, and that’s helpful.
  • Im headed to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding in 3 weeks in San Fransisco, so be prepared for some photos from that! Then I’ll be returning home to YYC and my beloved mountains (oh, and my family too 😉 )
  • I have a couple close friends coming to visit, and could not be more excited to see them. One of my best friends recently came to help me celebrate the end of my semester and it was SO good to have her back! The effort, money and time to travel across the country (or anywhere for that matter) to see someone (let alone me!) is something I so appreciate, and was really just the most lovely of her.

I think that gets me sort of kind of caught up.

This last semester was a challenge in so many ways. Time wise, it was a condensed semester so there was 13 weeks of material jammed into 8. One of our classes, community mental health, revolved around power, occupational justice, stigma and interventions aimed at groups rather than the individual. It was really challenging to reflect on so many big, emotionally dense items, but it was so worth it. I feel like it was a great compliment to my experiences in India, and will help me keep unpacking those moments, and to keep learning and challenging myself.

More soon! (for real)

xo

B

 

The last first day

Today was my last first day of school! At least for this master’s program…. I seemingly always come back to more courses, more school, more learning. And even if it really is my last first formal day of classes, I want to always be open to learning.

Today was bizarre; I only had 1 class. It was quick and relatively painless; Im looking forward to the class. It’s an elective on Dysphagia (the process of swallowing food) and I’m excited (maybe not about having to follow a pureed diet for 24 hours… but thats another opportunity that I will surely be sharing).

Even though Im no longer in India, I feel my heart still is. Waking up without anyone around is weird. Weird in an unsettling, where the hell am I, kind of way. Im still not sleeping (haha… like this is a surprise) through the night, and at this point, I  feel like I probably wont ever again.

I saw a few of my friends today, and when they ask how India was… I just.. cant put it into words. And I dont really want to. I miss my little splinting kiddo so desperately my heart aches, and really, just everyone there. My OT friends there said that she came looking for me at dinner the night after we left, and was sad when she didnt see me… Cue me crying as I was trying to get off the plane in Montreal.

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Look at how TINY her little hands are!!! Such a cutie. 

Its a tough transition back to Montreal life, and it feels so incredibly selfish and indulgent to be here, living alone, buying more groceries than I probably need, savouring my hot water showers… I have a lot of reflecting and emotional unpacking to do in the upcoming months.

Ouffff.

Bonjour

Its been 18 hours since I landed in Montreal and it’s feeling very surreal to be back.

The flights from India went as smoothly as they could really… The first 5 hour flight a baby screamed bloody murder like I have NEVER heard a child scream before… The next flight from Doha to MTL was 14 hours; I managed to sleep and almost reset my body to Montreal time. Sarah and I grabbed Tim’s coffee after we grabbed our bags, what an amazing feeling to drink real coffee again!! Then it was off for groceries after dropping off my bags at my apartment. I got a quick catch up with my grandparents, mom and aunt, and a couple of my fab 5 back in Calgary which was lovely.

One of the UBC OT girls that is still there messaged me while we were in the air; the little girl I splinted while we were there came looking for me at dinner on Friday (like she did every night) and was upset when I wasnt there. She was the sweetest most adorable little one, and I wanted to scoop her up and bring her back with me for sure.

Last night I caught up with a friend here and his new puppy; wine and cheese are always part of our hangouts so it was a nice re-introduction to the city. It was SO cold yesterday though, I am not stoked to be back in winter.  I was up at 7am MTL time, and lounged and read in bed for a couple hours. It was SO weird to wake up to silence. No bells. No Sarah getting up for her run. No chanting. Silence. After being with people for the last 3 months (7 weeks in India, and 3 weeks at home with my fam) its very very very very very weird to be truly on my own again.

Today will be more laundry, and getting myself organized for classes on Monday. I’ve unpacked everything, and by unpacked, I mean my suitcases are empty but everything is still currently sitting on my floor… It will get itself sorted soon enough!

 

Leaving on a jet plane

Today is our last day at ASSA. It’s snuck up SO incredibly quickly.

I have a few last minute things to take care of, but for the most part, it’s really just packing up.

Last night was our last game’s night with the SCI (spinal cord injury) group. Every Wednesday we ran a variety of group games, the favourite being handball. It was so much fun, and even better when we all played in extra wheelchairs. I played last night, and am pretty sore! The wheelchair I had was too big and the arm rests ended up bruising the inside of my arms, but at the end of the day, it was amazing to play along side the members, and be grateful that I had the option to get out of the chair whenever I chose. We also did some yoga after games night; a guest teacher was there… the guys didnt take it too seriously, and it ended up being a great laugh.

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Today has been pretty surreal; a lot of mixed emotions packing up my things. Waiting the day out to leave is really not my favourite… It feels like it draws out the good bye. But I would probably feel like that no matter what time of day we left.

I said goodbye to my families at the Early Intervention Centre, and managed to snap a quick photo with the head OT there. She was such a wonderful source of knowledge for me, and, like everyone else here, so kind and welcoming.

 

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We did have a really lovely meeting with the VBRI workers this morning. We got to share some of our highlights and they made me cry with the (too kind) things they shared about me. I have SO much admiration and respect for these women; day in and day out they travel to small villages in less than ideal circumstances. The blistering heat, the lack of resources and challenging socio-economic and other influences all can challenge their intervention plans. They are also setting a new example for their own children (if they are mothers) as well as the women and young girls in the villages. It is the embodiment of women empowerment, and I could not be more grateful to see that in action. These women move with grace, purpose and dignity. They hold their head up when they walk through the villages, instead of looking away as is often expected. They are strong, in so many ways. I feel like these words will never do their abilities justice, and my inadequate words cheapens their strength.

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Pushpa, the lady in the pink, was adorable and grabbed my hand for the picture. If Im being completely honest, I was teary eyed this whole time. 

 

Im going to try and catch a quick nap before the rest of the afternoon runs too far away from me. More soon.

 

xo

B

Maybe.

 

A few thoughts regarding one of my clients.. He’s been the most challenging to treat but also the one who I have seen so much growth in over the few weeks I’ve been here. A is a 6 year old boy with a multitude of diagnoses; epilepsy, mental retardation (a whole other blog post to come on terminology/power of language), cerebral palsy, sensory processing issues and possible hearing loss. He lives with his family (parents and 3 brothers) in a very small village; they do not own furniture and sleep in a single room.  Additionally, he lives in the village where the young man died of suicide in January. Heavy.

When I look back on meeting A., the first feeling that hits me is how quickly my stomach seemed to drop within my body, taking in the reality of this child and his family. As a human, my heart broke for the little boy laying on the floor, his mother with tired, sunken eyes and his timid and fine boned brothers. As a future clinician, my brain started taking inventory of how the child behaved and responded to what must have felt like an onslaught of people. Emotion and pragmatics battle within me minute to minute, but this felt like a full on war from each side.

It was clear walking into this family’s home, that they were doing the best they could under the difficult circumstances they had. The house was small, perhaps the size of a large garden shed, with cement floors and walls; a single bulb struggled to illuminate the main room. A small kitchen, the size of a closet, was located off to the main room. The single window was small, and sunlight struggled to get into the home. The mother shared that the family slept, ate and lived in this room; their whole lives fit into this 12 x 12 space. The walls, the floor all the same dark unpainted cement colour. A. spent his entire day laying on a thin woven mat on the cement floor, his skull had flattened in response. How many hours must he have spent kicking against the dreary coloured cement, trying to move around and explore his little world, that his hair had rubbed off and his scalp roughened in response. I had read about babies in the Ukraine with flattened skulls, laid in their cribs for hours on end with no human contact. I didn’t expect to see a child in this day and age, who reminded me so much of those children. But then again, I don’t know what I expected to see in a rural village… I knew it would be hard. But preparing for challenges is difficult when you don’t realize what “hard” means in the context.

My mind raged at how unfair this seemed. Unfair that A’s parents might have had to choose between feeding their family, and A’s epilepsy medication. That the medication couldn’t be properly monitored, and his seizures seemed to be happening at an alarming rate. Unfair that this family had to huddle together on a cement floor every night as sleep pulled their eyes closed. Unfair that the education provided to families and individuals with special needs/disabilities was so lacking. Unfair that because those with disabilities are ostracized in many instances, so the education may seem unnecessary. Unfair that society made this mother afraid to take her child past the threshold of their door, into the sunlight, for fear of judgement. My heart broke at each realization, and I could not help but feel so let down on behalf of the family, by the health care system, by societal expectations, by the government, by people.

Unfair or not, I swallowed the rage and knew that I had to do the best I could with my own circumstances and knowledge. Anything else would only be a disservice to A and his family.  Seeing that little boy seemingly perk up when he was held, and tried his best to interact with the world lifted my spirits. Every interaction with him, he seemingly becomes more engaged with those around him, and it makes me so genuinely happy for him that his family is taking some of the recommendations we’ve given and turned them into action. The small things, whether its hugs or speaking to him, or holding him in the sunshine, make such a difference, when he has lived in relative darkness for his entire life.

In the few times we visited, his older brother (who was 13 and looked 8) was in charge of caring for A… a lot of responsibility to put on his small shoulders. While this would not be acceptable in North America, it was the reality that this family lived in, and continues to live in. Accepting that, while at the same time wishing that both of these boys, and their other two brothers, got to enjoy their childhood, were two opposing truths that I had to learn to balance in my own views of the world. I struggle sometimes with holding two opposing truths, but these experiences have reminded me that neither is less valid than the other, and that you can’t see light without the dark.

I struggled leaving that little boy on the floor every time we left. Knowing that it was where he spent the entirety of his day, with the exception of meals or therapy… And again reminding myself that this was the family’s reality. That despite my wishes for things to be different, that there would be other consequences to those wishes that I may not recognize. That I had to trust that the family believed and understood the importance of therapy for their son. And I have been trusting, every week it gets easier to trust when I see A make gains, even if they are seemingly tiny.

As I left A on the floor for the last time, my heart screamed. I couldnt really fathom it being the last time I walked out of that family’s home. The session we had that morning was amazing; A pushed himself up off the floor a few inches, he rolled by himself, the seating system (essentially a bean bag chair) supported him. The seating system meant he would be able to sit up for the first time in his life, without someone having to hold him, and that he could participate in his world. It truly had the potential to be life changing. The CRW (community resource workers) asked if I would take him with me back to Canada, because they thought I would make him better there. It was a beautiful compliment, and soul crushing all at once. They said the way I interacted with him was lovely, and wanted to see him do well. And all I could muster, through teary eyes and a heavy heart, was that he was getting better, he was getting stronger every day and that taking him from his family wouldn’t help him. That he had a great support system where he was and that I thought he was doing great. How do you even respond to that? I’ve run those words through my mind over and over and over. I am amazed at the circumstances that brought me to this area of India, at this time, to this family, to this child. That despite the deprivation he has gone through for the first six years of his life, this may be a turning point for a brighter future. Maybe his life will be extended because he will no longer be fed on his back, with a high risk of choking. Maybe he will be able to hold his own bottle. Maybe he will learn to say a few simple words.

Whatever the possibilities, I realize I am a small chapter in this family’s life and can only wish strength, hope and wellness for them. It’s all we can really wish for each other.

 

Scrambling

Well, apparently my placement is almost done (how did that happen?!) and we leave on Thursday night. Its feeling SUPER surreal. Between finishing client treatment sessions and doing documentation, I have not been really able to write much. Im planning to catch up on all my (very mixed) feelings about leaving on the plane since we’ll have 5 and 14 hour flights….

In the mean time, here’s the sunrise we watched on Sunday morning from the top of a mountain in Munnar (no big deal). I am awed and amazed at the world we live in.

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xo

B

 

 

 

 

Reality check

Hi again,

This time I dont really have much of a good reason to have been as MIA as I have lately.

But some sort of record is better than nothing?

The UBC students have been here for just over a week, and I would say we’ve all settled into an easy friendship. It’s great having more people to chat with, and bounce ideas off of as well. We all went to Varkala this last weekend, and it was a lot of fun. I never ever ever ever wanted to leave (if our supervisor hadnt semi-joked we would fail if we didnt come back from the beach I would still be there right now).

Last week I saw my village kiddos and did my  last coaching session. The Wednesday village visits went well; two of the UBC students came with to observe and get a feel for how the sessions go. It was really great to have them, and help as I was working along side Sarah, our resident PT student. Thursday they also came along, and there were a LOT of us. One of the French volunteers came as well; she is a social worked and created a foundation to raise money to purchase needed equipment for Amar Seva Sangam. Its quite remarkable how many people are involved in the operation of ASSA, and the efforts that go on behind the scenes.

Friday was the 25th anniversary Handi-Care International being involved at ASSA, and the school was renamed for the late president of the foundation (check out their Facebook post here: https://www.facebook.com/HandiCareIntl/posts/1275078655907494)

In honour of the celebration, there was an ELEPHANT. Holy moly. It was so cool to see an animal of this size so close. It was so calm (in my opinion) and kind of reminded me of a horse; if you’re calm, they stay calm. From the bit I could tell, the handlers were very kind and invested in the elephant. They even gave it a bath before the afternoon celebrations!

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We missed most of the other celebrations in the afternoon, because we left for Varkala. All of us were beyond ready, especially the three of us who have been here for 5 weeks. I can only speak for myself, but as much as I love the atmosphere on campus, it feels a bit like we’re living in The Truman Show; in a bubble removed from the outside world. So it was SO nice to get out and see other areas. Everyone is so lovely and wants to ensure we are safe and well cared for, which makes me feel two ways all at once. Its so sweet and kind and thoughtful of them, but Im very independent, and am used to doing my own thing without having to check in.. so it’s mildly irritating (especially when I havent slept or missed my coffee) to have to check in with reception, get a gate pass, provide the exact location of where we’re going, who we’re going with, when we’ll be back, etc etc. I realize I can hold these two opposing views in tandem, and that they are able to both exist at once, so just trying to honour that about myself.

Anyways, back to the beach. We’ve been trying to go somewhere every weekend but our plans are seemingly foiled. Fingers crossed we get our act together for this weekend!

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We arrived around 6, dropped our bags and basically ran to the beach. The sun was going down, but none the less, it was beautiful. A few of us hit the ocean, and the water was so warm and salty.

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After the beach, we headed back to the resort and had dinner. We all treated ourselves to a much deserved beer. I definitely havent missed alcohol since being here, but it was nice to kick back and toast our adventures.

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The next morning was beach time!! We had breakfast at the resort, and I had REAL COFFEE. Between real coffee and the hot water showers I was almost crying with happiness. I’ve said before that hot water is happiness, and honestly, in my life, there’s little hot water can’t solve.

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This was the best cup of coffee I’ve had. Not because it was that good, but because I’ve missed it that much. #caffeineaddict

We walked through the shops lining the road and made our way down the cliff to the ocean. It was instant bliss. I wanted to move everyone I know and their dog to this beach. We took a brief hiatus for lunch, and reclaimed our beach umbrellas (rented that morning for 400 rupees total, for 2!).  It was a bit hazy, but still SO hot.We took advantage of the shade, and so did some of the resident beach dogs.  I tried to give one a little water, since he was panting up a storm and instead was rewarded with him burying me in the sand. So much for acts of kindness in the animal world.. Im definitely kidding, but he had an attitude! None of the beach dogs bothered people really, and most had collars. I assume they live with the store vendors and get to enjoy the beach during the day.

We stayed at the bach until sun set, and then went roaming for some dinner. We settled on the Juice Shack, and met a lovely girl from London. She was on a solo trek through India, working her way through to China. It was great to make more friends and enjoy each other’s company. Soon after, we were all feeling the effects of a couple beers and lots of food and headed for bed.

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It was SO nice to wear Western clothes, although not being super covered up was very weird. I finally got to wear a new skirt I bought before leaving for India; I cant wear it around ASSA because it doesnt cover my ankles… So obviously I made Eudia be my personal photographer and had a little mini photo shoot outside our room…. How could I not?! It has pockets.

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The next morning a few of the girls went for yoga in the morning; I tried but not sleeping well (still) is killing my vibe. After they all got back, we had breakfast with our London friend (she went to yoga too) and bid farewell. Then it was a quick run to the beach, what an amazing blue bird day. Dragging myself out of the ocean was so tough. I could have stayed in the water all day.

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checked out of the hotel and did some shopping. I picked up a silk dress on Saturday, and got to wear it around before changing into “real” clothes for the drive back to ASSA (baggy long pants, a long top etc).

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Being back on ASSA was a tough change. Monday went pretty easily; I only had one kiddo at the EI centre for a short session so I caught up on most of my paper work.

Today I had no kiddos, and spent the morning waiting for them… Every day is a surprise so I often wait for half an hour for one of them to show up, or they dont come at all like today. I spent the day running so many errands around campus and trying to create a presentation Im going to give the village workers on the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure. We’ll see how that shapes up!

There are visitors coming from McGill tonight (some of my profs) and more tomorrow, so we were temporarily relocated from our room… A bit of a gong show but it all worked out. Or at least it seems to have.

Anyways. Off to relax a bit before we have dinner with our profs and figure out planning for the village tomorrow.

xo

B

Quick notes

Just a quick entry before I drag myself to bed.

I havent been sleeping great since we’ve arrived, and it’s catching up to me. I wear ear plugs at night, but Im finding that I have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep… This isnt unusual for me, but definitely more challenging when I feel like I have to be “on” every time I step out of our room.

We didnt end up going hiking on Sunday; the company was being shady and way more people got involved than needed to be. So we rested and welcomed the UBC students. It was really nice to have a day off, and do nothing.

We’re headed to Varkala this weekend with the UBC students; Im looking forward to laying on the beach and working on my tan (aka hiding in the shade with SPF 50). Maybe I can sleep then?

Who knows, maybe this lack of sleep will let me properly write, and answer some of the questions I’ve gotten from people back home. That’s an upside?

 

B

Annual Day

Today was “Annual Day” at ASSA; it is a day to celebrate the students’ successes, and acknowledge the families and staff that support the students that attend both the main stream and special schools. Children and their families who receive services from ASSA offsite (such as some of my village kiddos) came too.

 

 

 

There was a parade to celebrate the new cement road, and lots of dancing and signing. A group of young boys also performed in a marching band. The sidewalk was decorated with elaborate chalk designs as well. A lot of the kids performed, and their expressions of joy made me miss dancing. Being on stage is terrifying and thrilling all at once.

But back to the kids. They were all fantastic, and in typical Indian style, the whole affair was pretty informal, but celebrated with so much appreciation for every performer.

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This little girl was in the fashion show that took place in the morning; she’s better dressed than I have ever been in my life! (And yes, we asked her mom for a photo!)

 

 

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Myself, Eudia, Sarah & Harsha

The day was spent back and forth at various performances, a nice break from being in the stifling EI center. I got to see the kids I work with and their families at the celebration, so it was nice to connect with them even if it was outside of therapy! Tomorrow will be busy, with treatments and splinting, but Im looking forward to it before we head hiking on Sunday!

 

xo

B