By DAWNE LEIKER
LA CROSSE - It might be a familiar hymn or the chorus of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," that residents hear coming from the piano of Locust Grove Village activity's room.
Whatever the tune, 97-year old Viola Yost draws fellow residents in as she plays the songs she's known most of her life.
"The thing of it is, whenever I start to play, I have an audience, and they appreciate it," she said. "That, to me, is a service I can give.
"God gave me my gift, so I owe it to give it to others."
She readied her hands for a paraffin therapy bath in the village's quiet room, looking forward to the warming treatment she hopes will help with the numbness she's had in her hands since experiencing a stroke last summer.
"This morning, I went into the activity room, and the fingers didn't want to work," she said, as she smoothed the protective gloves on her hands. "I missed a lot of notes, but I don't know why.
"I hate to lose that, because I've already lost a lot of my ability."
Gwen Fetters, Locust Grove Village clinical care coordinator, who brought massage and related therapies to the nursing home after receiving certification as a massage therapist in July, said she is hopeful the paraffin treatments and hand massages will be a benefit to Yost.
"When we follow up with the hand massage, you can just feel the tendons and the tightness in her fingers," Fetters said.
The "Dip and Hang" paraffin treatments are a scheduled activity for all residents who wish to participate each Monday at Locust Grove Village. In addition, the service is available during the week as needed by residents.
"They think they're being pampered, but they don't realize the health benefits," Fetters said.
A six-year employee of Locust Grove Village, formerly Rush County Nursing Home, Fetters began her career with the nursing home in its office.
"As I sat behind a desk shuffling papers, I felt in my heart that I needed to serve and help out more," she said. "I went to my boss and said, 'hey, I have this crazy idea: I want to be a nurse.'"
"And they were behind me 100 percent."
Fetters went on to graduate with honors from Barton County Community College with the help of Locust Grove's tuition reimbursement program. But she knew there was more she wanted to do.
During a "light bulb" moment, Fetters began to explore the idea of bringing massage to the nursing home. She was driven by the thought that many residents could benefit from the human touch and connection associated with massage.
With help from Locust Grove Village's tuition reimbursement program once again, Fetters trained for eight weeks at Body and Soul Therapeutic Massage School in Wichita.
She has been excited to bring massage therapy to the residents. Although few residents can position themselves on a massage table, she provides chair massages, hand and feet massages and spa treatments.
"They get the natural healing benefit of massage in addition to the person-centered one-on-one care," she said. "Because that's what we're all about."
Some health benefits of massage include improved circulation, easing of hand contraction and alleviation of some arthritis symptoms. In addition, Fetters said she sees a calming effect from massage on those suffering with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia.
She finds daily rewards in residents' reaction to her massages.
"A lot of them have never had a massage, and they say, 'how much do I owe you,'" she said. "So I say, 'you don't owe me anything, this is a service to you.'
"They deserve it."
Although she has heard of some assisted living facilities incorporating massage therapy services into activities, Administrator Charlotte Rathke said she isn't aware of any nursing homes that have made massage a regular addition to restorative care.
She said incorporating massage into residents' regular exercise routine sets Fetter's program apart from others.
"It's a neat service," Rathke said. "A different aspect to touching and caring that I want to support her in doing."