“Holy moly, those tomatoes,” says Columbia View Lodge resident Mike McGill, as a recreation therapist inches his wheelchair closer to his sanctuary.
Margot Wright pushes McGill out into the yard so he can tend to his vegetable garden.
The planter has been raised and hose repositioned for his strong left hand, which he relies on only these days. The residential care facility in Trail adapted its edible green space to fit McGill’s needs. According to his chart, he is 72 years old and has lived at the facility for one year after a stroke resulted in the need for more care.
When McGill arrived his daughter and wife said he loved gardening and he virtually took over the care of the community garden. Lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs grow rampant in the raised bed and round planters. The produce cultivated is ready for harvesting now as the end of growing season nears.
“I had a garden and twice as big as this thing here,” he says with a grin. “And why not, hey? That is good.”
McGill picks a heap of lettuce to share some with the kitchen in his neighbourhood, before offering up the rest to the main kitchen to be incorporated into meals.
“We also have a whatchamacallit it,” McGill points to some greens while he searches for the words.
He struggles with aphasia, a communication disorder that results from damage or injury to language parts of the brain.
“I’ve got it but I haven’t got it,” he continues. “I mean, over to this side is good,” he traces his good hand across the left side of his face, “and the other side, not so good.”
His condition is common for someone who’s had a stroke, which occurs when a clogged or burst artery interrupts blood flow to the brain. This interruption deprives the brain of needed oxygen and causes the affected brain cells to die, in which case the functioning of the body parts that they control is impaired or lost.
But McGill doesn’t dwell on what limitations he has. The happy-go-lucky guy has always made the most of life, says Wright, who adds that the garden rejuvenates him, brings a smile to his face and gives him purpose.
“It’s fodder for conversation for us and a game of charades at times,” she laughs.
Wright likes to tease McGill. She’ll knock on his window from the courtyard and pretend to pluck the produce ripe for the picking.
“Gardening is something they’ve always done,” she says. “It brings back memories and it’s really good exercise for Mike.”
Tending to the community garden is not only physical but an emotional, social and a cognitive exercise. The process of feeding the plants, checking the soil and picking the fruit of his labour keeps McGill busy.
Columbia View Lodge uses recreational activities like this to assist residents in dealing with lifestyle constraints to ultimately encourage them to grow towards their highest level of health. The facility provides activities that “maintains the present, rejuvenates the past and promotes the learning of new leisure skills and interests,” according to Wright.
“We maintain contact with the community in which they live through community outings or in-house community programs,” she adds. “In a nutshell, activities are aimed at enhancing each resident’s quality of life as per their health and wellness needs and leisure interests.”
Activities include familiar life skill tasks like sweeping, chopping, clearing the table, baking and cooking. But it’s not all work and no play. Residents enjoy Bingo, crib and other card games, Yahtzee, bean bag toss, hallway poker, group giant crosswords and word searches.
They get in touch with their artistic side, sometimes for the first time, through crafts, colouring and painting or the creation of decorations for the facility.
Social gatherings like tea parties, featuring goodies by the Italo Canadese and the Sisters of Columbo, can regularly be found. Musical entertainment, music therapy, trivia and conversations about the “good old days” and current events are commonly shared around the table.
Physical fitness is maintained through pastimes like gardening, of course, outdoor walks and ballroom dancing.
“He does dance with me on ballroom night,” Wright shares. “He’s got that one arm and he spins me.”
The room is filled with laughter as the two show how its done.
The garden can be seen perfectly from McGill’s room and though it’s not as big as one he kept during healthier times, the man beams with pride.
“What the heck,” he says. “It’s good. No problem whatsoever.”