After working in physical therapy for almost twenty years, I stumbled across a new job in home-based health care. I had previously worked in many different settings, including short-term rehab, nursing homes, and outpatient facilities. But nothing I had ever done could prepare me for the blessings I would receive treating geriatric patients in their homes. There is something about being welcomed into a patient’s own environment that warms my heart. It allows me to discover the small, everyday spaces of their lives and connect with them there.
For about five years now, I’ve worked with patients on their mobility in the privacy of their homes—homes in my community. I have appointments with elderly patients who are members of my church and some who are complete strangers. Most times, I am welcomed with open arms through their doors and into their hearts. During the time we spend together, they share the details of their lives, including their fears about the future, struggles with family relationships, and prayer requests. I feel honored to share in these precious moments with them, and I have been blessed by their concern for me as well.
A Difficult Beginning. However, at first, I had doubts about taking the job in a new setting. I was definitely venturing out of my comfort zone. To make matters worse, my very first patient and I didn’t establish a good rapport with each other.
It was a struggle from the beginning. This patient missed her previous therapist and constantly compared me to her. No matter how hard I tried, I never measured up to the other therapist in her eyes. In all my years of providing therapy, I had never had a patient dislike me or resist working with me. After some particularly hard days working with her, I cried hot tears of hurt and disappointment and questioned whether I was cut out for home health care. It was a discouraging start to my new career.
More Than “Physical” Therapy. But then I met Mrs. Marlow (name changed for privacy). She was a bright-eyed eighty-year-old who lived only a couple of miles from my house. We started working together to increase her strength and balance following a recent hospitalization. During many weeks of therapy, we became very close. She was from New Jersey and new to the area. She shared about her family back home whom she missed terribly, thus complicating her adjustment to living with her daughter in a new place. But most of all, she missed her church and being able to attend services on a regular basis. In the move to North Carolina, she had misplaced her Bible. She expressed her sadness that she couldn’t even read God’s word for comfort and inspiration, especially now that she wasn’t able to connect with her church family.
When she told me this, it was as if God had spoken to me, saying, “Get her a Bible. This is exactly where you need to be and what you need to be doing.” I had never experienced such intense urgency to carry out a task. Surely this must have been the Holy Spirit at work.
Promptly I purchased a large-print Bible and presented it to Mrs. Marlow. She was overjoyed and promised to start reading once I left, placing the leather-bound book on her nightstand for safe keeping.
It was then that I sensed God confirming that what I was doing made a difference. Sure, I helped Mrs. Marlow get stronger through her exercises, and her balance continued to improve with each passing day. But it was so much more than that. I knew God had placed me in her home to help her spiritually. I was in a position to get her the resource she needed to continue leaning on and trusting in the Lord.
Looking for Ways to Love. Months later, Mrs. Marlow suffered from a stroke and lost vision in both eyes. She was no longer able to read, even with the largest print. But I’m sure the words she read since I had given her the Bible still echoed in her mind and heart. In those months before she lost her eyesight, she was able to pore over the Scriptures, soaking up as much encouragement as possible. It was if she knew that she needed to make the best use of her time.
I am thankful that God showed me how to make a difference in her life. Now I’m constantly looking for small ways to share my faith and make a lasting impact in the lives of each of my patients. Sometimes that means having a little more patience. Sometimes it means helping out with groceries for the week. And yet other times, it means praying for and with a grieving mom who has just lost her son to a terminal illness. Even when I can’t see it, I know God is working, in them and in me.
God at Work—In My Work. I never know just how God will use me, but I can be assured he has a purpose and plan for me in each home I visit. I’m so glad that I didn’t give up on home health therapy, as I was tempted to do in the beginning. I could never have imagined the blessings and plans that God had in store for me through my occupation. But of course, the Lord knew all along.
I don’t just go to people’s homes to help them with therapy. In most cases, my patients end up helping me more than I help them by giving me words of wisdom and advice. But the beauty of it all is that I know God places me in their lives for a specific reason. This is true for each of us. Christ is within us, looking for opportunities to partner with us to minister to people. Each day brings a new opportunity, if we keep our eyes open.
Alisha Ritchie lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.