On a mild July afternoon, Conrad Burrage smiles with excitement as he waters the boxed off bean plants in the West Suburban Medical Center courtyard. As he carefully tends to the plants, his occupational therapists, Nina and Megan, give him gentle direction about keeping his grasp firm and fingers straight. Conrad is one of the patients who tend to the community garden as a part of sub-acute impatient therapy.
In 2013 Conrad was having heart surgery, at one of the Chicago academic medical centers, when he suffered a stroke unconsciously. Once he woke, his wife informed him what had happen while he lied lifelessly on his bed, struggling to comprehend.
Though the left side of Conrad’s body was affected by the stroke and became weak, his faith remained strong. As a former reverend, he knew that God had given him this physical challenge to work through. “God is good,” said Conrad, “He helps me keep faith in myself and my recovery.” For Conrad, going outside and gardening for a few minutes every week is a peaceful reminder that all life needs care in order to grow and become strong.
The familiarity, and connection to normal life, which the garden offers is something many patients, including Conrad enjoy. In his home, he once grew tomatoes, beans, and radishes after he learned that a favorite Denver Broncos player was an avid gardener. For 28 years, Conrad worked as a special delivery postman, and had little spare time to commit to his plants. Small trips to the garden with his therapists mean so much more to him than just an increase in mobility.
“It is amazing watching the strides my patients make every day,” said Nina, one of the therapists working with Conrad. “Observing their progress and hearing their stories is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Conrad’s strength and determination is truly inspiring.”
For Conrad, the road to full recovery is a slow but steady process. He believes, “You have to tie a knot and hold on even when things are difficult. I have met the most wonderful people here at West Sub that are tough, but have such enthusiasm too. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. They believe in me, and I believe in myself.”