95: Soul Soup Found at Brooks Clubhouse

95: Soul Soup Found at Brooks Clubhouse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Soul Soup Found at Brooks Clubhouse

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.

~Aristotle

I opened the front door at the Brooks Clubhouse, and there stood six-foot-plus Jacob. He looked at my face and said, “I know you, but I don’t know your name.” Jacob is one of the last patients I worked with at the neuro-rehabilitation day treatment program before I retired. Jacob’s memory wasn’t bad for not having seen me for six weeks.

The room was busy with new arrivals at the front desk, some already attending to their jobs, several people on computers, others visiting and drinking coffee. Most began to gravitate to the dining room where the day begins with a community meeting around 9:30. Mona was facilitating today. The meeting moved along, bouncing from topic to topic.

“Who left the musical turtle in my chair? Let’s keep it in the bathroom!”

Chappy pushes a wash bucket between the tables.

“This is my first day. I have a bad memory but I remember faces. Don’t worry I’ll help you with that. I sat home a long time and then I found this place. Now, I come here every day. I couldn’t remember names all my life; now I can blame my brain injury. I like chocolate. I yawn a lot, but you’re not boring—I just do it. This will change your life!”

Sometimes statements were prefaced with a name, but the important thing was the message, not the name.

Kathy arrived with the Friday doughnuts—the meeting was over—time to go to work, but not until after the doughnuts!

The planning meeting for maintenance group that day included three people using wheelchairs, and jobs were open for bid. Nancy, dubbed the “disinfectant diva,” would clean the light switches, Joy the sinks, and, since no one wanted the toilets, Mona volunteered to be “captain of the commodes” for the day. Off they went—Mona leading the wheelchair chain, toilet bowl brush in hand. As the group finished the first bathroom, Mike came out of the next bathroom saying “Don’t go in there, seriously, don’t go in there!”

Each person worked at their own job, at their own speed—there was no pressure to hurry. Rather the atmosphere was peppered with stories about smoking cigarettes, not smoking cigarettes, and lots of jokes . . . but always heard among the ranks were thank you, please and great job today!

It is often difficult to see the difference between the staff, volunteers and members—everyone is working to maintain the clubhouse—it’s a collaboration.

This is a clubhouse run by the members. The price for membership? Brain injury. All are treated, first, as people, with strengths and weaknesses, not as impaired survivors. I observed a different kind of friendship at the clubhouse. It was touched with respect, and, sometimes, brutal honesty. Impairments were a fact of life. They were not the focus; rather solutions were the focus, searched for by all. I saw people who struggle with aphasia and hearing impairments communicate with each other—sometimes it was a hug, sometimes it was a wrestling hold—but delivered with love between cohorts.

It is a member-driven and -supported program. There are no agreements, contracts, schedules or rules intended to enforce participation. Members attend as many days as they like, and they choose what they want to work on. I never heard, “that’s not appropriate,” as you hear, often, in structured rehabilitation programs, but I did hear, “that hurts my feelings,” “your breath stinks,” or “I feel bad when you say that.”

The kitchen is abuzz with lunch prep led by Mike. Mike is one of five employees at the clubhouse. He is a TBI survivor who has dedicated his life to helping others who find themselves in the same boat. When he completed rehab, he remained connected to Brooks by volunteering to cook at the day treatment program, and when the clubhouse opened he was hired to provide leadership in the kitchen. Today it’s individual pizzas, green salad and fruit, followed by Mike’s birthday cake. Many need assistance to get their food onto their plates and to the table. It happens without ado, and soon everyone is happily munching on birthday cake. One of the members is a former produce man, and Mike goes with him to the farmer’s market on Mondays, and they stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables for the week.

Following lunch, Uno is the game of choice in the main room. Members come and go, playing a few hands or staying for the entire activity. “Don’t tell me what card to play, I know what I’m doing.” Some can hold the cards, some use cardholders, and some have their cards on the table. Turns can take only seconds or much longer. Another game was Would You Rather?, a game that gives two equally silly options, and you pick one. What a hoot everyone has with this.

Many of the individuals I see, I have followed since discharge from acute inpatient rehabilitation. Some would not be able to return to competitive employment; some are not ready now. Families and friends resumed their lives, and these patients were left to sit at home all day with nowhere to go. Now they have a place to go where they are accepted, loved and guided to a fuller life . . . and they love it.

Ms. Alice, the matriarch of the clubhouse, completed the day treatment program and was still unable to communicate effectively. She goes to the clubhouse five days a week as she has done for the five years it has been open, and she now works in the culinary unit, leads an exercise group (when she feels like it) and readily interacts with everyone. She is, in fact, the one who had a wrestling hold on another member in the kitchen—she was giving some tough love to Don!

The Brooks Clubhouse has always been a vision of my friend Kathy and she has been able to see her dream come true. It has changed the lives of neurologically impaired individuals over the last five years. It’s a haven for people who might have filled their days with television, overeating, drinking, drugs, depression, or isolation. Now there’s a place to go every day. A place that offers hope, compassion, camaraderie, and a darn good time!

I retired from neuro-rehabilitation with the knowledge that individuals who suffer life-changing neurological trauma have a life-long option in Jacksonville that enables them to participate in a fuller life that they can captain.

I salute those who have supported and funded the clubhouse and Kathy, for pursuing her dream. But most off all, I salute the members for making Brooks Clubhouse their very own and very unique rehabilitation.

~Diane Kleinschmidt

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