Their story is our story.

Fishing rod therapy

The tip of the fishing rod twitched, paused, then twitched again.

It was a sensation the young man hadn’t felt for a long time. Not since before the accident. But he had done this before. The bump on the end of the line tripped memories like a switch. He knew what to do, could feel the tension in the water as the fish turned for another strike.

Then it was there—a bass dancing in the water—him reeling—warm sun sprinkling through the junipers and the physical therapist giving words of encouragement punctuated with laughter.

…And the quiet squeak of the wheelchair as he shifted his weight to fight the fish. The chair was still there. It wasn’t going away. But at least for a little while this day the young man didn’t think about it. That afternoon he cleaned and cooked the fish from his wheelchair.

He hadn’t left the grounds of St. Charles Bend. He was one of the first of many patients who have enjoyed fishing in Charlie’s Pond, a little hole next to the hospital that has become a manifestation of the healing health care philosophy in the hands of physical therapists.

The young man had been a cook, truck driver and avid outdoorsman before an accident robbed him of the use of his legs. Confinement had started to rob him of his will to live. In a small way, being able to fish helped turn the tide, said Judy Meredith, an occupational therapist at St. Charles.

“I think it showed him he could be successful in a wheelchair,” Meredith said. “It was a very happy time for him to just have a fish on and to be able to feel that.”

Charlie’s Pond came about as meetings of minds in 1989 between Meredith and Ray Millar, then St. Charles’ chief groundskeeper.

“He always wanted a nice place on the grounds, and I wanted something for patients,” Meredith said. “I like to fish, Ray likes to fish and I thought fishing would make a good thing for rehab.”

Hospital administration gave them the go-ahead. Contractors involved in hospital construction dug out the pond and installed a wheelchair-accessible dock. Millar put snags in the water to serves as accessible walkway was built around the perimeter. Volunteers planted large mouth bass.

The pond was named Charlie’s Pond as a double entendre for St. Charles and for the first patient who fished there, a man named Charlie. It has been a hit with both wildlife (Meredith has seen osprey fishing there) and with patients. For some patients, just being able to get outside and so some of the things they once were able to do is physically and emotionally healing.

“It’s really important for them to know that the things they really like are still within reach,” Meredith said.

Though it was designed with physical therapy in mind, the pond is open to all St. Charles patients. Meredith said sometimes patients and even staff who don’t fish go to the pond just because it is a relaxing place.

“It’s gorgeous there,” Meredith said.

Date: December 7, 2017