Belting out classic karaoke tunes like “I Will Survive,” and playing board games like “Trouble” is all in a day’s work for Putnam Hospital Center's Renee Garner-Freeman.
The nurse regularly plans activities like those for patients being treated in the Carmel hospital's behavioral health unit, where she has been stationed for the past nine years. Garner-Freeman said that’s because her goal is to create the kind of fun that not only makes the time pass — but is also therapeutic.
“It’s a catharsis for healing, and we talk about things that bring a lot of joy,” said the Dutchess Park resident. “Our activities are very good diversion techniques.”
Also part of Garner-Freeman’s “catharsis for healing” is the fitness program she helped institute, which includes walking laps around the unit and stationary exercises for patients in wheelchairs. Basketball and bowling tournaments have been held there, too.
One of the most fundamental points of Garner-Freeman's care, though, is the self-soothing techniques she teaches patients that utilize their five senses. If someone likes the smell of almonds, for example, she might show her how using an almond-scented lotion can work as a way to calm her nerves.
“Some of these things can serve as methods of coping and a reference for when a patient felt better,” Garner-Freeman said.
She added that her greatest reward of the job is seeing her patients start to heal after having a good laugh after winning a round of Wheel-of-Fortune or performing a hearty rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
“Being able to see someone really down and finding out what could possibly bring them around, and what type of activity could help them move forward is rewarding,” she said.
Garner-Freeman's patients come to her from Westchester communities such as Yorktown, North Salem and Somers.