A Dose of Southern Hospitality—Talking with Louise Plaster
By Debra Nelson-Hogan
Louise Plaster is president of a 200+ member support group in Greenville, South Carolina, an impressive cohort by anybody's standards. When you talk to Louise it's easy to see how she can help bring together and sustain her membership. She has combined exceptional management abilities, a spiritual base, a basic sense of being grounded, and huge doses of good old Southern hospitality.
Her relationship with CRPS began in 1992 after a knee injury at work, though it wasn't diagnosed for 11 months. Dr. Robert G. Schwartz, her physician and a leader in CRPS treatment, started a support group in 1985; in November 1993, Louise was elected president. She used her team building and management capabilities to create what some would see as a model support group. She distributed business cards and flyers to doctor's offices and PT clinics and placed ads in the neighborhood papers. The support group grew.
The group meets the first Thursday of the month and generally has between 15 and 35 attendees. Geared toward keeping patients mentally, physically and spiritually healthy, they teach relaxation and breathing exercises and emphasize that negativity is a weight that holds you down. Family and caregivers are welcome, she explains, because "part of the education process for caregivers is learning when to let go. Caregivers need to know when to give the patient back their independence," she adds.
Each meeting has a formal program, open discussion, and social time. She believes it is very important to get together and just talk or go out to dinner and just "be normal." In addition, the group has created a buddy system so members can call each other when they are having a bad day.
One of the most impressive things, however, is the level of volunteerism and downright hospitality the group offers. Louise says there is always someone available to drive people to treatment and, when necessary, group members have opened their homes to out- of-town patients. "Any way we can help people save money, whether it is for temporary housing, cheaper prescription drugs, whatever, we will do what we can."
Her challenge is helping patients accept their new reality. "CRPS has enriched my life. Rather than wanting my old life back, I'm living the life I have now. I want it to be productive and positive. People have to accept that CRPS is an ongoing thing and accepting means making changes. I tell people to try to do things the way you used to. When that doesn't work, try a new way. The goal is simply to get it done. It doesn't matter how you do it." And sometimes that means letting go of expectations and tasks that are not manageable. You have to set priorities and learn how to manage in the good time and the bad.
It's like the group's logo-a smiling, radiating sun symbol. "It illustrates radiating, burning pain, but alternatively is bright, cheerful and energizing. It represents the good days and bad days," she says.