Preface

This interview was conducted via email around the end of February and the beginning of March 2017. The reason for the interview was my growing interest in the history of Occupational Therapy, which lead to reading, which led to more reading, which led—more or less inevitably I guess—to the books of Margaret Drake. (Artikelbild von Andréanne Germain via Flickr: CC BY 2.0)

Well, not only books, but novels, and not only novels, but novels revolving around OT-practice and with Occupational Therapists as the main protagonists. Margaret is retired from the profession and lives on Hawaii, where she continues her writing work. I sincerely thank her for taking the time to answer my questions, also many thanks to her former colleagues who put me in touch with her.

This article is a kind of follow-up to my book-review of „Reconstructing Soldiers: An Occupational Therapist in WWI“, which is written in German.

The Interview

Margaret Lois Drake

handlungs:plan: To my best knowledge your novels are the only ones worldwide that are both written by an OT and revolving about the profession of OT as a whole, how did you board that train-or in other words, what was the genesis of the idea or the inspiration of writing novels about and around OT?

Margaret Drake: I started to think about this while I was teaching in Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. I had written the textbook Crafts in Therapy and Rehabilitation and had had to write a case-study for almost every chapter to illustrate the concept I was introducing. Writing the case-studies was the most fun because most of them, I had to make up almost like writing fiction. Three or four of them were actually based on REAL patients I or one of my colleagues had worked with. But during that process, I realized how much more fun it was to write fiction than “scientific” or “academic” topics.

I also realized that my mother, who died when I was an infant, would have been starting her studies toward becoming an English teacher at the same time that the School of Occupational Therapy was starting in Chicago. She could easily have become an Occupational Therapist instead of a teacher. So I decided to make a story in which she would have done that. But a major part of writing the book was that I realized that though there were many stories of nurses and even art therapists, there were none I knew of about Occupational Therapy. People who advise writers always say, “Write what you know about.” Consequently, I began to research so I could write about what I already knew or wanted to know. At that time also, the American Occupational Therapy Journal usually had a historical research article about every three issues. I relied heavily on those. Being on a university faculty and having access to a superb library also contributed to the effort.

handlungs:plan: Your novels are mainly set in the earlier years of the profession, what is the background of this focus and what triggered your interest in this special era of OT-history?

Margaret Drake: Another reason for my interest in that WWI era is because my father, who was working on his chemistry Master of Science at Iowa State University, was drafted into the US Army. Though he never saw the battle front, he was employed in a chemical weapons laboratory in Washington, D.C., where his lungs were damaged by mustard gas experiments. Being hospitalized afterward, he contracted tuberculosis from other patients and eventually was discharged. Be became a farmer as the treatment for TB at that time was sunshine and clean air so he took over the farm that his father had homesteaded in Iowa.

handlungs:plan: How did you research the contemporary circumstances of this historical period in regard to society and the role of women in it at this time?

Margaret Drake: I researched mostly by using American Journal of Occupational Therapy Journal and lots of books – The First Thirty Years of Occupational Therapy; The Army Medical Specialist Corps; A Proud Heritage: The American Occupational Therapy Association at Seventy-Five; Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War; Service with Fighting Men: An Account of the Work of the American Young Men’s Christian Associations in the World War (1924); Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams, and probably others I have forgotten. I also called the US Army Specialist Corps and asked them for information. There was an American Physical Therapy Association booklet that had so much information in it, but I have forgotten the title. For „Reconstructing Soldiers“ I also visited Hull-House, the place where Occupational Therapy „started“ officially in the US, and the Kankakee Illinois State Hospital, both of which helped in visualizing the settings.

handlungs:plan: How did you research the contemporary circumstances of this historical period in regard to OT education, practice, uniforms, values, behaviour/conduct and so on?

Margaret Drake: I think I answered this in the first two questions.

handlungs:plan: Do you have a message for OT-students?

Margaret Drake: My message for OT students is to think pragmatically rather than dogmatically in solving problems.

handlungs:plan: When you look back, how would you reflect on the development of the profession since the early days?

Margaret Drake: My impression is that the various country systems of how healthcare is delivered has caused us to become more machine-like rather than building the relationships with our patients. Perhaps this is only a USA phenomenon because we do not have national health-care services. Also documenting on computer forms suppresses our creativity in how we present our special knowledge of patients. Use intuition if regulation treatments and documentation seem to restrain you from doing what you know your patient needs.

handlungs:plan: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Further Reading

Subsequently listed are all the books, that Margaret mentioned in the interview (as long as they are still available or findable) and most of her own works, feel free to browse, if you are interested in the profession’s history, you might find one or two interesting reads:

On an additional side-note, Margaret is currently working on a historical novel about a state mental hospital in the years 1946-47, she expects it to be finished within the next year, so keep your eyes peeled!

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