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Foot care for senior adults yields spiritual link with nursing students

ATLANTA (BP)–It started as a senior project and ended up a “spiritual kind of thing.”
Lorie Gassel was a nursing student at Georgia Baptist College of Nursing when she came up with the idea to sponsor a foot clinic for the elderly to fulfill her senior project.
“The elderly deserve to be cared for well,” Gassel reflected, “and foot care is important. If your feet hurt, you don’t walk and then you can have all sorts of problems.”
Gassel worked with nursing professor Helen Hodges to develop the program for residents at Paces Ferry Apartments, an independent living center operated by Georgia Baptist Homes.
In May 1998, Gassel and Hodges held the first foot clinic at the apartments. And when Gassel completed the requirements for her project, Hodges agreed to continue the monthly program with help from volunteer nurses and students.
The foot clinic is especially important because “the foot is a window to the rest of your health,” Hodges said. Through a foot examination, such problems as poor circulation, early signs of diabetes and even neurological concerns can be detected, she said.
“Sometimes they just need a larger size shoe,” Hodges said. Basic foot maintenance is also part of the services the volunteer nurses offer. “We had one resident who had hip surgery. She literally couldn’t reach her feet to care for them. Trimming toenails is part of what we do, but it’s not everything.”
The group sees between nine and 12 patients in a day; each appointment lasts about 45 minutes. It includes examining the foot, caring for the toes, watching the way the resident walks — and doing a lot of listening.
“We tell them what we see. A lot of the elderly lose vision and they can’t even see if they have problems on their feet,” Hodges explained. Other patients, meanwhile, may have lost pain sensation in their feet and aren’t even aware of problems.
Hodges and the other volunteers don’t treat the problems, but they recommend when a patient should see a doctor; otherwise, they do a lot of “health teaching” to help the seniors take care of their feet.
“It makes my heart jump when people leave and say, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m walking on air,’” Gassel said.
Though the clinic provides a valuable service, Gassel also believes it provides a spiritual connection. “When Jesus washed the disciples feet, there was a connection to the soul,” she explained.
“It’s a humbling experience when you’re willing to get on the ground and touch someone’s feet. There’s a spiritual essence to it.”
Student volunteers are the primary care providers during the foot clinic. Foot care skill is part of the RN-BSN clinical education at the college, Hodges said. “A lot of RNs don’t have those particular skills.”
The foot clinic is expanding this fall as students begin working with an Atlanta church for the chronically mentally ill.
In the meantime, Lorie Gassel graduated and is now a registered nurse working at Atlanta Medical Center and at Atlanta Hospice. She made an “A” on her senior project.

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  • Sherri Brown