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Mike Waechter: Addressing connection barriers during COVID-19


January 26, 2021 - Hospital Family Story, Stories

Many of us have discovered a new hobby or two during the pandemic and Mike Waechter is no exception. The Recreation Therapist, who works at Osler’s Reactivation Care Centre, admits to cultivating a penchant for sourdough, but his lockdown leisure goes far beyond baking.

“I’ve taken on some new activities focusing on strengthening my own personal resiliency and capacity. I’ve found that adding some simple mindfulness activities such as meditation and journaling, paired with regular physical exercise provides me with greater optimism, self-awareness and ability to handle the stressful situations that come with working in health care during COVID-19,” he says. “I’ve also started listening to Podcasts, which can turn a stressful highway commute into time carved out to do something I enjoy.”


In his role, Mike uses recreation and leisure activities to deliver physical and cognitive therapy to patients with a goal of improving their independence and quality of life. A main benefit of recreation therapy is the opportunity for patients to socialize with each other. When physical distancing measures were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mike and his colleagues had to find new ways to engage patients.

“Patients thrive in group therapy, such as exercise, music, self expression groups, social games groups and cognitive stimulation groups, among others. In each group there’s usually a few different things we’re focused on providing patients—like physical movement or cognitive challenges—but they definitely always provide the opportunity for patients to interact,” he says. “With COVID, the major change is the isolation our patients experience when they're not able to interact quite as much. With that comes a lack of stimulation and that can lead to withdrawal from activities they previously enjoyed and usually a decline in independence and motivation.”

“We try to be as innovative as we can. We hadn't really used Zoom technology much before, but we’re taking full advantage of it now. It's also going beyond and doing things like window visits, especially during the holidays when family and patients wanted to connect so much. It's looking at new ways that we can do things,” he says.

For staff and physicians all across Osler, keeping families connected to their loved ones when they can’t physically be together remains one of the most important challenges.

“Family members have usually been so connected with these patients, and not being able to come in and visit and to see how their loved one is doing—that's a huge change for the patient as well as the family, especially during a pretty vulnerable time for the patient,” he says. “So it's having that regular communication with family members and making sure they know that everything is okay, and that we're providing everything we can.”


Not only does Mike see the benefits of recreation on patients, he stresses the importance of leisure for helping all of us weather the pandemic.

“Coming from a background of recreation and leisure, I truly understand the value of it and the difference it can make day-to-day in a person's life,” he says. “When we're in a stressful environment like this it's something that can't be missed. So, whether it's using activities we already find rejuvenating, or finding new activities, just because we're in a pandemic doesn't mean that our life has to stop.”

“There's a lot of growth that can happen, too. Rather than always focusing on the negative and how situations are developing around COVID, try looking for positive changes we can make on an individual level and see some of the growth that might come out of a situation like this.”