by Michael Lenox, Chief Petty Officer Submarine/Diver USN (Ret)
My story begins while I am an in-patient at the Seattle VA Hospital for a month and a half for occupational and physical rehabilitation. I am in a “mental haze” and unable to think clearly 24 hours a day since my stroke. A buddy of mine visited me from San Diego and challenges me to a game of chess, which I have played for years. In my amazement, I was able to think clearly and actually win the game against him. I credit chess for its contribution in aiding my mental recovery.
Fast forward two years. I am in a manual wheelchair and now living in Chicago. My wonderful wife Lia is a full 100 pounds lighter than me and bears the burden of pushing me around. Propelling a manual wheelchair with one arm and leg is not impossible, just really tiring and inefficient. The VA had offered to provide me with a power chair, but my wife was in love with our Nissan Murano and I wouldn’t dare deprive her of it. I was so adamant about not inconveniencing her, that I didn’t leave our house for months except for medical appointments.
Then I saw it on a visit to the Chicago VA hospital, a power wheelchair being lifted by an electric lift attached to a towing hitch. Bingo! This was the solution. We contacted the VA and in short order had a power wheelchair and an electric lift. It was a total life changer.
I wanted to “spread the news” about how chess had helped me. We started out by founding a few chess clubs at senior centers, running chess recreational therapy programs alongside a therapist at VA hospitals. These programs were mainly for patients with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Spinal Cord Injuries and Residential Care Facility patients. We have had several success stories.
I also conduct presentations on games and how they can help therapeutically. Notice I said games and not chess. On the mere mention of chess, I would lose the majority of my older audience. Chess is played globally and you don’t have to speak each other’s language. It is played by all social classes and abilities. This includes the blind, mentally and physically challenged. A game of chess can be played verbally as well.
Here is the most important aspect of the game of chess, if you play it (or even if folks think you do), you are considered intelligent. This does not apply to cards, dominoes, or dice. I haven’t met a person yet in my life that does not want others to think they are smart. This is especially true of patients who are in rehabilitation.
Game play can also be a very important aspect of one’s “quality of life”. If you remember back of your own fond memories of family and/or friends, it will probably include times of playing games.