Judith Pettigrew, Katie Robinson, Stephanie Moloney; The Bluebirds: World War I Soldiers’ Experiences of Occupational Therapy. Am J Occup Ther 2016;71(1):7101100010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2017.023812
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© 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association
OBJECTIVE. More is known about the experience of occupational therapists than the experience of patients during the profession’s early years. We examined soldiers’ experiences of occupational therapy in American Base Hospital 9 in France during World War I through analysis of a 53-line poem by Corporal Frank Wren contained in the unpublished memoir of occupational therapy reconstruction aide Lena Hitchcock.
METHOD. Historical documentary research methods and thematic analysis were used to analyze the poem, the memoir, and the hospital’s published history.
RESULTS. The poem describes the activities engaged in during occupational therapy, equipment used, and the context of therapy. It articulates positive dimensions of the experience of engaging in activities, including emotional benefits, diversion, and orthopedic benefits.
CONCLUSION. Previous historical research has identified core philosophical premises about the use of occupational therapy; in this article, the enactment of these principles is established through the analysis of a soldier’s account of receiving occupational therapy.
it is a double-decker building with about 70 ambulatory cases billeted in two long rooms upstairs, each with its own washroom. Approximately 90 men occupy the beds downstairs. These are spread through three rooms. The men are trussed up in fracture frames with sandbags, ropes and pulleys keeping their poor legs in the desired position. (p. 50)
Reluctantly, D—or Colonel Hawley—gave us three rooms in the Receiving Ward, an enormous, double, empty wooden barracks . . . The walls are rough boards through whose wide chinks the winds of winter will whistle, but what matter, it’s ours. We water stain the boards of the two small rooms a soft brown; hang blue-dyed linen curtains at the windows; build rough shelves for tools and exhibits; fashion a long work table from planks and trestles; a desk for Miss Hills [head aide] from a board resting on two crates . . . One room is Miss Hill’s office; one our preparation and exhibition space; and the long room outside is our work shop. (p. 52)
The dump heap has also yielded treasures—tin cans, cigar boxes and quite good-sized pieces of gumwood from the boxes in which hospital and food supplies were shipped. And from somewhere or other, Miss Hills or Hope [another occupational therapy reconstruction aide] have procured pieces of linoleum. The hospital blacksmith took some of my tools the other day and copied them. (p. 51)
to arouse the patient’s interest by giving them something to make, which at the same time would call into play the muscles which needed to have their function restored. The aides who were doing this work went from bedside to bedside and taught the men to make useful and beautiful things. Great good was accomplished in this way. In the first place the mind of the patient was being occupied; then the patient was using a part of his body which needed to be made strong and well again; and last but not least, he was making something that was worthwhile and could be sent to those at home as a gift. (p. 78)
Analysis of the poem revealed holistic practice addressing both physical and mental health. Difficulty enacting holistic practice has been identified for decades (Finlay, 2001). Greater attention to addressing the physical health, rather than the mental health, needs of service members and veterans is an ongoing issue.
To ensure client-centered practice is realized, occupational therapy practitioners should elicit and value the experience of service users.
These findings support the groundswell of calls for the use of occupation as the means and end of therapy.
Opportunities presented by Lena Hitchcock’s memoir have not been fully exploited. The memoir contains drawings and photographs, and other memorabilia are available that warrant attention.
Future research on the writings and accounts of early occupational therapists and service users is required to more fully understand continuities and discontinuities in occupational therapy theory and practice and influences on practice over time.
This study underscores the ongoing value of researching and disseminating the experiences of occupational therapy service users to inform practice.
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