To the reader: In case you wonder, the following story is not about myself, the Frog Blogger, who has humbly added some comments beyond the basic story itself.
Once upon a time there was a young man who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. The young man wasn’t much of a student; in fact, he only had fair grades and was barely getting through high school. His parents hoped he would be going to college, but it wasn’t very hopeful.
Then something unusual happened when he met a college student who told him of the wonders of college, including interesting teachers, long hours with the opposite sex in the dormitory, great food in the cafeteria, and the beautiful ambiance of the college campus. The concept of college all of a sudden sounded really interesting.
He had only one big thing going for him. He was an excellent salesman and could sell anything. In the course of his young life, whenever there was a sales project, be it raffle tickets for a car wash, for a play, or anything at all, he could sell it with great gusto. He always came back the winner of any sales event. And that applied to himself as well, to be able to sell himself as well. He became student body president and the head of pretty much any organization he lined up with.
So he decided college was the way to go. He applied himself greatly, sold himself at the interviews and gained admission. There he decided that for a career he would get into healthcare. And, as usual, once he decided to apply himself, he excelled and got a 4.0 GPA and became the president of the student body. All of a sudden the future for him became very promising.
After hearing bad stories about the difficulties and long hours of the family doctors, he decided emergency medicine best for him and finished his training and began working as an ER doc. However, after some years, he noticed that his sleep patterns were completely disrupted and his job was way too stressful.
He found that there was a nice nursing home nearby that he felt could use his expertise. He sold himself as the new director and began working there. He noticed, however, that the 80 clients who lived in the nursing home appeared to be very depressed and suffered from what he called, the three plagues: boredom, loneliness and helplessness.
Now remember, these 80 clients who lived in the nursing home in the tiny town in upstate New York, were significantly handicapped. Half the patients were physically disabled, and 80% of them had Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of cognitive disability. Nonetheless, the young doctor attempted many different strategies to change the degree of the disability of those inhabitants. He changed their medications, rearranged their living situations and did more tests and scans on the patients to find out if anything more could be done to help them with their disabilities. However, nothing seemed to help after years of these attempted changes.
More than anything else, however, the staff was getting increasingly frustrated with the young doctor’s attempt to change the dark atmosphere and depression that dogged the patients, their families, and increasingly so, the staff as well. And so the doctor decided on an entirely new strategy based upon what he believed to be the big three causes of the continued cloud that hung over now the staff as well as the patients. To attack the three plagues, he decided he would radically alter the lives of both the staff and the patients by adding new life to their home.
He fought really hard to get the local authorities to allow live plants in the rooms instead of fake plants. He, however, decided that he needed more life; therefore, after much difficulty with authorities, administration, and staff in the facility, he rounded up 100 parakeets, four dogs and two cats and appropriated them to the two floors in the nursing home.
He still wasn’t happy with all he had done, and there was much complaining, mostly from the staff about the degree of difficulty in caring for all the new animals. Nevertheless, he fought hard with the financiers for the nursing home to maintain these changes and even set up a play area for children, complete with a swingset, slide, and merry-go-round, all in the backyard of the nursing home.
Well, shortly thereafter, the staff, as well as the administrators, families of the patients, and the local public noticed significant changes in the nursing home. It happened slowly at first but gained momentum over time. The patients began very slowly communicating with the various animals. They were noticed to be enjoying looking at the plants, and soon were interactive with the birds. They watched their movements, studying them and reporting to staff on their various behaviors and even tweets. The patients indeed became extremely interactive with the dogs and cats. So much so, that many patients were asking to take the dogs for walks during the day. But it didn’t stop there. The staff at the nursing home set up a daycare for their children who soon followed them to work, enjoying the play area that was built especially for them on the grounds.
In addition, some of the people in the area had gardening experience. And so with the help of some local nurseries, they set up a huge garden in the back yard of the nursing home and were growing all kinds of great vegetables, which they ate with much gusto in the cafeteria on a regular basis.
And so it was that, after much struggle and the addition of quite a few different animal species, the nursing home came to life. Locals noticed, talked to other people, and soon it was well known throughout the area, and soon the entire state. The model was soon used to start over 200 new facilities in the area, and it was being studied by various facilities all over the country for improvement of their own nursing homes.
In fact, a foundation called the Pioneer Group, was set up to help discover new ways of making changes for the better in nursing homes. These were to be modeled after, but not necessarily identical to, the changes that the young doctor had made at the small nursing home in the small town in upstate New York, that became known as the Eden Alternative.
And so it was that the humble ER doc with no experience whatsoever in caring for nursing home patients was able to make tremendous changes in the lives of those residents and demolish to a great extent the big three plagues of nursing home existence: boredom, loneliness and helplessness.
This story represents the enormous impact animals and plants can have on humans, particularly those compromised and disenfranchised by disease and confinement. This story was adapted from the book Being Mortal written by Atul Gawande, M.D. (All comments beyond the basic delineation of the story itself are those of the Frog Blogger.)