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Thursday, October 16, 2014

At a Slower Pace

Jules here-

"No, I got it!" The grizzly voice bellowed as I precariously guarded the old man on the not-recommended step stool. "See," he gloated after admiring the now-hung mini-blind, "I told you that I could fix it." He proudly gazed out his window at the yellow and orange leaves decorating his lawn and muttered something about having to rake them up, as I tried to reiterate my post-stroke instructions.
My view from work is pretty amazing

Though I am still a homecare occupational therapist in New Hampshire, my new job has thrust me into the true New England setting. After residing in Southern New Hampshire for the past nine years, I thought I understood the Yankee mentality- I was wrong.  The lower 1/3 of New Hampshire has slowly been infiltrated with Massachusetts residents and has become a suburban wonderland. Of course, my prior town had two town-Lake beaches, miles of hiking trails/scenery, and quaint covered bridges as any quintessential New England area, BUT I was only a ten minute drive from Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond and numerous restaurants.

Up North (say in thick Maine Accent for emphasis), most patients live on dirt roads without cell service, cable, or even neighbors within a mile.  Instead of seeing 6-7 patients a day, I barely get to 4-5 while driving 15-25 miles between patients.  Some of my patients have to drive 45 minutes to a grocery store, pharmacy, or doctor's office.  Though I am enjoying the books-on-CD, the fantastic fall foliage, mountain & lake views, the isolation (i.e. no bathroom breaks) does take some acclimation. 
The people in this area are different too; most have lived in the same home their entire life- on a mountain, on a dirt road, with some "junk" scattered about.  We always judge the houses with a rusted-out car, peeling paint, and overgrown yards-- but they are not concerned about our opinions.  The residents of Northern New Hampshire care about survival.  Jobs are scarce up here, and many open sugar shacks (maple sugar) in the spring, make their own jam from wild blueberries to sell to the tourists in the spring, open plowing and landscaping businesses (for the wealthy "vacationers"), or sell scrap metal to local dumps.  No job is beneath them, and their pride comes with home ownership, chopping and stacking their wood for winter, and helping neighbors in need.  They would laugh at the suburban mindset of "keeping up with the Joneses" and prefer privacy to contrived socialization.

Outsiders view the Yankee privacy as coldness, apathy, or selfishness, but in reality I think these people are used to being quiet and listening, not prattling or complaining about the weather.  When you walk outside in the winter here, deafening silence will greet you. After the animals have nestled into their winter homes and snow blankets the Earth- the only sound you'll hear will be the sound of your boots crunching the snow as you make your way to the woodpile for provisions.  You become used to your own thoughts rather than the background chatter and distraction of a busy city or neighborhood.  These northerners reflect much of the early colonists' strength, determination, and spirit, and they are true survivors in this harsh landscape. 

Many of my patients scoff at the idea of "going to a gym" or "lifting weights" as they stack cords of wood, manage acres of land, and work odd jobs well into their eighties.  The women up here would never wear unpractical shoes or worry that their winter coat isn't flattering- they are hearty, direct, and not concerned with the frivolity of southerners.  They may not be as conversational as the South or seem to be interested in you- but when you allow them to open up (at their own pace) their stories are just as rich as interesting as anyone's.  Plus, their determination to "get better" and back to their chores rivals any of my past patients'. 

As I watch my 82 year old stroke patient start his daily 1/2 mile walk to his mailbox with his walker, I realize that though I wouldn't recommend this area as a retirement plan- necessity and nature may provide more therapy than I ever could.

Easy Rule #542490- An old dog can learn new tricks- you just have to let them think they came up with the idea.

Easy rule #56098- Minivans aren't really made for back-country driving.

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