Amidst juggling classes, group projects and research papers, the students and faculty of the Occupational Therapy Department got together on February 24th for the Department’s Spring ’14 OT Movie Night. The film screened was The Crash Reel, a documentary by Oscar-nominated director Lucy Walker. The film chronicles snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s love of the sport, his passion to become the best in it and his fierce determination to return to it after a traumatic brain injury, despite vehement objection from his family and doctors.
Associate Professor Yael Goverover kick-started the evening with an introduction of the film, and also touched upon a few topics for us to keep in mind for the discussion that followed. As occupational therapy students, we learn about the ways a person’s role is defined by their occupations and how changes to that affect their identity and ability to engage in life. In the same vein, I was most interested in how Kevin’s roles changed after the accident, and the impact of those changes on his life and his own self-perception.
Prior to the accident, Kevin’s identity was tied to his role as a champion snowboarder. After the accident, he was left with poor balance, constant double vision in both eyes, weakness and the lack of short-term memory, all of which hindered his ability to return to the sport. He had a difficult time adjusting to the limitations his damaged brain and body presented, and struggled with depression as efforts to regain his previous identity remained unsuccessful. The film captured these struggles well and acted as an occupational profile. Although it did not specifically mention this, I think that occupational therapy could have helped walk him through these challenges, assisting him to finding new activities and goals to pursue, while also teaching him to see that although his life would not be the same, it could still be meaningful.
The film also captured how his familial relationships changed, as he battled to get back to the sport that almost killed him; creating tension and anger, while posing challenges to the family dynamic. Kevin Pearce was lucky; his family had a very close bond that allowed them to be honest with him about their feelings. They helped him work through his sadness and anger about his inability to return to snowboarding, until he found a resolution of his own.
The discussion that followed focused on our roles as occupational therapists and how we could better help clients like Kevin and his family. It raised several issues, including the importance of conducting assessments or occupational profiles to understand who our clients were, in order to determine who they want to be. What steps are they willing to take to get there? How could we help our clients find new goals and activities if they are no longer able to pursue old ones? How could we help a family become better equipped to meet the client’s needs and relieve some of the burden of caretaking?
The evening served as an emotional reminder that our clients may not always have the capacity or resources necessary to find their way through a challenging injury or illness, but what they WILL have are great occupational therapists who can help them find success with a new or different purpose, and the capacity to live a full and meaningful life.