As occupational therapists working in the Saskatoon Health Region, we had the pleasure of working with a dynamic recent centenarian who was an OT after the Second World War. We decided to interview her about her experiences as an OT so we could share her story. Here is the account of a woman who adopted OT as a lifestyle, not as a career, and who reminded us of the most important and fundamental parts of our roles as OT’s.

Huberdine “Dina” Brecknell was born and raised in Saskatchewan. She married a physician who enlisted at the start of world war two. Dina’s husband was overseas for five and a half years, in which time Dina tried to get there too. She made it as far as Montreal and Ottawa. There she worked in several positions, including being a systems analyst, what she calls an “efficiency expert”. A systems analyst is a professional problem solver employed to research, plan, and recommend solutions to best meet their client’s needs. They are aware of a variety of strategies to reach the client’s desired outcome. Bares a keen resemblance to the OT goal of assessment and intervention tailored to the specific needs of clients, no?

Later in the war, Dina was asked to work in Dundurn with men who were returning from overseas. She and three other doctor’s wives went to Dundurn to begin doing occupational therapy with returning soldiers. The women received training in the morning and worked with the soldiers in the afternoon. Some of the activities Dina and the other OT’s did with the men were needle work, basket making, building model planes, and creating pillow covers. The government supplied all the materials the OT’s needed for these activities. Dina still keeps some of their projects to this day.

Dina described to us one young man who chose knitting as an activity. The young man knitted the length of a typical scarf, then kept going and going. The therapist’s supervisor told them not to tell him to stop if the activity was making him happy. They felt that activity not only diverted the veteran’s attention away from feelings such as anger, but also provided him with choice and opportunities for control in his environment. Dina learned that complete happiness is doing what you want to do, and she herself felt satisfaction from seeing their enjoyment.

Dina held several other jobs over her lifetime. She helped run her husband’s medical practice, organizing and prioritizing referrals, worked as an efficiency expert for companies and for the health region, was an OT, and is now still providing advice to fellow residents in her apartment building. She is still looking for ways for people to perform their everyday activities, and for ways to make those activities as efficient as possible. A recent suggestion was to lay napkin dispensers in her apartment building’s dining room on their side, as pulling a napkin upwards was easier than using one hand to steady the dispenser while the other hand pulled the napkin out. The connections Dina sees between these jobs are the roots of our profession; she says “it all comes back to how you approach people with things...how you look at other people and what they are capable of…I don’t tell people what to do, I simply ask them "Do you enjoy this?’”.

“You make a choice about a career and carry it with you.” This quote from Dina affirms for us that occupational therapy is not just a career, it is a way to approach life. As we bring OT service to our patients we must not forget the foundations of practice. Therapeutic use of activity is something we do without thinking. Perhaps, though, we do not often ask our patients what they would like to do, but rather assume that certain tasks are important. As Dina told us, you must listen to people and ask them what they want to do. When our patients achieve their best performance by doing what they want to do, the clinician/patient team attains unprecedented satisfaction. Thanks to Dina for her keen insights and simple wisdom. The truth of her words is witnessed through her authentic living and continued vibrance.