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Inpatient rehabilitation patients have few opportunities to see a change of setting, particularly if that setting is outdoors. So Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and Care Network in Chicago provides some rehab patients with an outdoor recreational day, called Therapy in the Park.
The event has grown to be such a big celebration that it is held only once a year. But that one day gives the hospital an opportunity to celebrate rehabilitation along with sugar-coating therapy sessions by providing patients with fun and games.
"One of the primary focuses when we began this program was the idea that therapies could be fun," says Donnell Langston, director of therapeutic recreation for the rehab hospital.
"We have a playground and park across the street, and we have a cooperative program between us and the park district which has made the playground wheelchair-accessible," Langston says.
Each year a different theme is selected, and this past year’s was tied with The Face of America millennium ride/roll in which people with disabilities walked or rode wheelchairs across the country, meeting in St. Louis. The ride/roll was sponsored by World TEAM Sports, which stands for The Exceptional Athlete Matters. Schwab’s theme was The Faces of Schwab.
Participants from both coasts stopped in Chicago at the park near Schwab over Memorial Day weekend, and the Schwab patients supported their athletic endeavor by taking a walk around the park with them, says Lisa Rosen, MS, CPRS, recreation therapist for the rehab facility.
"We had breakfast in the morning and some speakers from the community, and then we did the walk," Rosen says. "Vendors serving people with disabilities had different stands in the park."
"Four of our [former] patients traveled at least a couple hundred miles with World TEAM Sports," Langston says. "We had a celebration in Grant Park and a great big welcome for them with bands and food and revelry."
The patients who were able to walk or roll around the park joined the TEAM athletes. Others participated in other therapy activities, including a basketball game, dancing to a blues band, and other recreational sports activities.
In other years, the Therapy in the Park has had themes of the Olympics, a fair, music through the decades, and the Caribbean. Langston and Rosen describe how they were able to tie therapy to games and events tied to these themes:
• Olympics: "Therapists had to come up with games related to the Olympics," Langston says. "One physical therapist came up with a tandem wheelchair race, not singular but tandem." This meant that therapists and patients could work together as a team, with the therapist pushing the patient. "Patients who had a stroke and one-side weakness could have a therapist working with them to keep the car straight," Langston says.
• Fair: Therapists replaced the traditional pie-in-the-face toss with a Jell-O toss. Therapists would sit in a chair with a large canvas or plastic tarp behind them. Then patients could take a small square of Jell-O and toss it at the therapist.
The patients’ therapeutic responsibility was to hit the target. "Patients tried harder than some of the therapists had ever seen them doing in therapy, because they really wanted to throw that Jell-O," Langston recalls. "They’d have fun and do therapy at the same time, and the clean-up was environmentally sound because Jell-O would melt like water," he adds. "No one got hurt."
Another fair activity simulated the greased pig chase by having a greased small watermelon that patients had to pass from one to the other without dropping. This was a high-level activity, and since the watermelon often fell and smashed open, therapists had several watermelons on hand.
One of the all-time most popular activities was the dunk tank, filled with 500 gallons of water. The hospital’s president, administrators, physicians, and therapists took turns being targets. Some patients used a baseball and others a larger plastic ball.
These types of activities and the whole Therapy in the Park festival-like atmosphere is very beneficial to the psychological status of the patients and their families, Langston notes. "We invited the family to participate because this is a way they can have fun with their loved one who has a disability," Langston says.
• Caribbean: Therapy for patients at high level included making a paper chain that could be hung like a lei around their necks. Patients also were given visors and sunglasses to wear, and the park’s atmosphere was moved south of the border by a Caribbean band, Rosen says. For low level patients, there was a parachute with a ball on it and a game that involved "Name that suntan lotion." There also was beach ball basketball and tube ring toss. Dancing was also available as a therapeutic activity.
• Music through the decades: Each rehab department took charge of creating therapy games corresponding to a different decade. The decades of the 1950s and 1960s were put together. The decades represented were from the 1950s to 1980s.
Various therapy activities included tie dying, wheelchair dancing to disco music, tongue twister poems, bowling, swing dancing, and games such as "Name that Tune" and "Family Feud," Langston says.
Other games employed in the name of therapy have included palm reading, shell games, passing water balloons, using a real hot potato to play a hot potato passing game, and even a more recent "Who wants to be a millionaire?" game. With the millionaire game, patients had to toss a bean bag at a roulette wheel with questions. Whatever question they hit they had to answer, Rosen explains.
Generally, the Therapy in the Park day has been a big success, both in giving patients and staff at least one day to have fun with difficult therapy work, and in opening therapists up to the possibilities of taking clients outdoors, Langston says. "After our Therapies in the Park, our therapists are a little more at ease with taking patients out to the park," he says. "It’s one of the big benefits."
• Donnell Langston, Director of Therapeutic Recreation, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and Care Network, 1401 South California Ave., Chicago, IL 60608. Telephone: (773) 522-2010.
• Lisa Rosen, MS, CPRS, Recreation Therapist, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and Care Network, 1401 South California Ave., Chicago, IL 60608. Telephone: (773) 522-2010.