My Brillig Year at ARBI
By John Lathrop
“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
I challenge anyone at first reading the first stanza of “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, to recite it aloud without halt or stumble, with good diction and poetic declamation.
I had to learn by heart and recite without stumble and with good declamation that stanza, in order to graduate from ARBI’s School of Speech Pathology. The director, Heather Tomlinson, a très elegant and very tall (I only twice saw her eye-to-eye as I was sitting bolt upright on ARBI’s stationary bicycle), is a creative speech-language pathologist whose practice accomodated my passion for obscure high Victorian poetry.
I wound up at ARBI as a result of open-heart surgery gone disastrously wrong. On Good Friday 2012 my aorta decided to split. In the Foothills O.R. they opened up my chest, cracked open my ribcage and repaired my aorta. Sometime during that operation a blood clot reached my brain. The surgery was successful, but the patient awoke legally blind and with his entire right side from his face to his feet paralysed. I spent four and a half months at the Fanning Centre undergoing rehabilitation and then spent a few months at CAR where Helen Frankow, the physical therapist, referred me to ARBI.
ARBI is unique in that it offers longer-term physical and occupational therapy for stroke survivors and those that have suffered other brain injuries. It is largely reliant upon charitable donations and is unique in another, more controversial way: it relies upon volunteers for program delivery. I have known fine therapists and even doctors speak of ARBI disparagingly for its use of volunteers, and even hesitate to refer stroke patients. I thank heaven that Helen Frankow at CAR referred me. ARBI uses trained and certified physical, occupational and speech therapists to first assess clients and then create their individualized therapy programmes. They then train the programme co-ordinators (mine was a physical therapist from the Philippines), who in turn train and supervise volunteers, usually a different volunteer for each day.
I was at ARBI for just over a year and had six volunteers during that time: two were young women, one headed for medical school and the other in training as an occupational therapist; one Japanese Canadian woman, my favourite, who had been very successful in the oil and gas industry and had taken a very early retirement; and three young men, ethnically from the Indian sub-continent, a secular Hindu, a secular Pakistani, and an observant Sikh, all three headed for medical school. Under the close supervision of the programme co-ordinator and the frequent hands-on supervision and assessment from the physical and occupational therapists, I felt in good hands always. In fact I commonly felt challenged which is how physical therapy should feel.
Under the supervision of my physical therapist, Teresa Siebold, my year at ARBI resulted in the following outcomes: greater strength throughout my core; improvement in range of motion and strength in my right arm, although insignificant improvement in my right hand; significant improvement in walking with a walker; and the ability to do push-ups for the first time in two and a half years (albeit girly ones).
But my volunteers provided me with more than just physical therapy. It had been more than a year since my operation before I was accepted at ARBI, and since that time my primary company had been fellow stroke patients. By contrast my Japanese Canadian volunteer was a full fifteen years—and youthful years—younger than I, and most of the rest were all in their twenties, one was only nineteen. Even most of the staff were well over twenty years my junior. It was a youthful group and got me back in touch with young people and people in their prime. I enjoyed interacting with them; their youthful energy gave me energy, and inspired me to work harder.
Youth! It should not be under-rated or disparaged. As an encouragement to work harder and as a social tonic, ARBI’s volunteers are an integral part of its success: they are a prime asset.