by Carl Jarvis
Reprinted from “The WCB Newsline,” Fall 2020.
There’s an old song that goes, “What a difference a day makes.” Well, I don’t know about one day, but 25 years most certainly make a difference.
Looking back, we feel as though we can almost touch that day in early January. And yet, as we drove down Highway 101 to our first appointment, 25 years seemed to stretch ahead of us forever. Such an immense length of time.
Peninsula Rehabilitation Services (PRS) began business almost the same day we moved into our new home. Now, nestled on 10 acres near the village of Quilcene, we were official. We were now one small member of a statewide program, the Independent Living/Older Blind Program (IL/OB.)
Initially, we were to serve Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties, but within a year we added Mason and Grays Harbor counties to our PRS family. Over the years, the state program became known as the Independent Living/Older Blind Program. As part of the Department of Services for the Blind, Ed Grant was appointed the program’s first administrator. Ed retired in the early ‘90s and he and his wife, Phyllis, bought a home in Port Angeles. There they began a blind support group at the Park View Villa Retirement Apartments.
On Jan. 1, 1995, we unloaded the moving van and entered our new home. And then we collapsed, figuring we’d take our time organizing stuff – tons and tons of stuff. Early on Monday, January 2nd, Ed called.
“You get moved in?” he asked.
“If you mean is everything out of the weather then, yes, we’re moved in,” I replied.
It would still be 10 days of waiting for a final inspection before we took possession. Ed said his group met on the second Tuesday of each month, and they would love to meet us, next Tuesday.
And so it began. The world was a bit different 25 years ago. We had no laptops, no GPS, no cell phones, and no online resources. But we did have one big advantage going for us: we were 25 years younger. And we were excited and eager.
We set a heavy schedule, two appointments before lunch and two in the afternoon, five days a week. Remember, we were driving around in Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam, Mason and Grays Harbor counties from Bainbridge Island to Neah Bay, and from West Port to Point No Point.
On normal days we ate dinner during Jeopardy, and then it was off to the office to enter the day’s entries and records, place orders, and call new referrals.
But schedules are made to be broken. One of our first learning experiences was finding out that retired people enjoy being retired. Many new clients were shocked when we suggested we had a 9 a.m. opening. As one sweet lady put it, “My dear, that is the time I’m getting my beauty sleep.”
Since no one would deny a person their beauty sleep, we dropped the early morning appointment.
Another lesson learned the hard way was the rising cost of doing business. When we first set out, a nice, filling lunch could be had for around $10 for the two of us. The last lunch we bought cost a bit over three times that amount. But that was just lunch. Everything else went up in price, too, such as the gas and maintenance on our Ford trucks.
We wore out three during the 25 years, and then there was the increase in aids and appliances, not to mention shipping costs.
But despite rising expenses, increased accountability, and piles and piles of records and paperwork, we managed to keep our eye on our goal of meeting people’s needs – assisting in developing the independent skills that enabled them to live where and how they chose.
Another important lesson we learned was that our clients often knew more than we knew about what they needed. We learned to shut up and listen. It became clear that it was not as important where they lived as how they felt about their contributions to their family and their community. It came to us that, for years, we Americans have been isolating our senior citizens when what they wanted was participation.
While we were busy “protecting” our elders, by sheltering them in assisted living facilities, they were feeling excluded when they still wanted and needed to feel included. More than once, we heard someone complain that their family had parked them in a senior facility in order to be rid of them.
As rehab teachers, there is an assumption that we can relate to our clients. While this may be somewhat true, there’s a huge difference between relating to and living with the aging process. This lesson is learned when we realize that the heavy grunt was not coming from our client, but is us trying to rise up out of our chair. And that youthful lilt to our step is more like a lurching limp.
And finally, if all the stars are in their proper places, we come to understand that we are not so much teachers as we are learners, all learning together.
For years we grumbled that the ILOB program was like going around putting Band-Aids on open wounds. In hindsight, that has not proven to be the case. Sure, we could have done much more, and served more clients if we’d been given more resources but, in truth, we “done good with what we got.” The real rehab was not the gadgets or the coaching, but the simple fact of connecting, the feeling of being worthwhile, to feel needed, and to feel a sense of independence. Twenty-five years could all be summed up simply as by the lady who beamed as she told us, “That watch, that lovely little talking watch. Now I no longer have to go about asking folks what time it is. I just ask my little friend.”
One small touch of independence, a turning point, the first step toward taking the next step.
Twenty-five years. Really, not so long a time. But time enough to travel the great Northwest and meet so many good people.
And, as we close the doors and turn out the lights, that becomes our final word as rehab teachers. Whenever the TV and radio and online news become unbearably negative, just pull on your walking shoes and go knocking on your neighbors’ doors. There’s a whole beautiful land full of beautiful folks just waiting to welcome you into their lives.