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Occupational Therapy in an Alaska School District

As the new year approaches, it feels natural for me to want to reminisce about my life and my experiences. I especially enjoy thinking about my trips to Alaska. I had worked for the past three years, for 12 weeks a year, in the Alaska villages school district as an OT. This fall, I couldn’t take on the work because life is like that. Change happens for the better and with many more new adventures to experience. However, it sure feels good to remember the beautiful flight from Hooper Bay to Scammon Bay. This is the story of when I first came to work as an OT in Alaska.

I can still picture the Bering Sea starting to ice over as square chunks pile up like dominoes. I can see all of this as I fly over the mountains in a small plane.

Then I get there and wait for my ride at the runway or what I would like to call a dirt track. Two people make phone calls for me. Fred, the pilot, and Maximillion who rides up on his Honda (4 wheeler ATV). Maximillion’s teeth look painfully worn as they sit inside his well-used smile.

I have too many bags for a Honda and he is low on gas. I’m looking up a hill in the distance, knowing I can’t drag my bags up there, however, I still contemplate a potential superman act to race up the hill with my bags in hand, like magic. I wait to see if the phone calls produce anything. They were only getting answering machines. I recall seeing out of the corner of my eye a woman giving Fred an unwrapped whole seal, sprawled out on cardboard, which he planted in the back of the plane. I found the rawness and honesty of Alaska so refreshing.

Eventually, transportation came to my aid in the form of one of the very few trucks in the village, and I eventually made it to my destination, a school. When I got to the school, there was no staff to be found. I stumbled into a room where a team of volleyball girls were sitting. They helped me to find the classroom where I would be doing my OT work.

I would work with kids on pencil grasp, zipping up their coats, open and closing the door, writing their names etc. I slept on the floor of the classrooms and ate rehydrated meals of sweet and sour pork over rice, and managed to start a new day like the previous day had never existed; fresh, awake, alive and ready to support the children who came my way.

I remember one day the principal said “You’re a half full glass kind of gal aren’t ya”? With much enthusiasm and a smiled I said, “Yep”!

These are the moments in my OT career that I remember because they were colorful, challenging, emotional and fun times in my life. What is it you find yourself reminiscing about as the new year encroaches?

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