He came back
You all know the famous World War II story of General Douglas MacArthur. If you don't, you should immediately stop whatever you're doing in the service of the long-term care profession and learn a little history. Many of the people you're caring for remember this epic moment vividly, and maybe one of them was actually there. You don't want to embarrass yourself.
Long story very short, after a forced retreat from the Philippines, General MacArthur promised to return as a liberator — and then actually did. When he left, his exact words were, “I shall return,” and when he came back, his exact words were, “I have returned.” He had a knack for the dramatic utterance, and must have had an excellent speechwriter.
There's a legendary photo of the General wading ashore, and that's what popped into my mind when I saw an elderly gentleman walk triumphantly into the dining room of a post-acute rehab facility recently. He immediately started working the crowd like a gifted politician, moving from table to table, shaking hands with residents, asking how they were feeling, remembering their names. It was a lovely scene, and I wondered who this friendly, compassionate celebrity could possibly be.
A few follow-up questions later, it turns out he wasn't a renowned, Medal of Honor-winning general making good on a promise, but he'd certainly been through his own kind of combat. An injury and major surgery had brought him here for extended, often painful rehab, and there was even some question how much he'd recover. But with the help of the therapy team, he got back on his feet and was living happily at home again with his wife of fifty-plus years.
After the victory tour of the dining room, he went straight to the rehab gym for a surprise thank-you visit, where after a lot of shrieking and hugging, his former therapist did an impromptu range of motion evaluation. Delighted with the results, the two chatted some more, hugged again, and he was finally off to the parking lot, mission accomplished.
I felt a bit like a news photographer on a Philippine beach that day, because like a wartime hero, he came back when he really didn't have to. Back to bring hope and cheer to the residents who remained behind. Back to show gratefulness to the rehab team who guided his recovery, and motivated him to perseverance when the future looked murky, at best.
“I shall return,” he promised himself — and he did, without even getting his feet wet. That's more than General MacArthur can say.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in Humor Writing in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.