At age 65, Mike Probst never expected to be living in a skilled nursing facility. But when aggressive treatment for stage four lymphoma left the former real estate appraiser unable to walk and in chronic pain, giving up independent living for a room in Regents Park in his native Jacksonville was the only option.
Decades younger than most of his fellow residents, some of whom are bed ridden and suffering from varying degrees of dementia, Probst found the change beyond challenging. “Truthfully it took me about a year to figure out where I was and who I was,” he recalled. Although thankfully cancer free, chemo left him with profound arthritis in his back and joints, wheelchair bound and reliant on a morphine pump to manage the pain. “Thankfully my family was there for me,” he said. “One day I just woke up thinking, God must have put me here for a reason.”
That reason turns out to be very good news for the 60 other residents in the skilled nursing area of Regents Park of Jacksonville. Probst started noticing electric wheelchairs left outside of rooms, in need of new batteries or repair, assistance not offered by Medicare. “So because they couldn’t afford it, these people couldn’t get around anymore. That just wasn’t right.” Now Probst makes it his business to keep the chairs in motion, powered by batteries he raises money to buy. He runs the bingo games and delivers the mail, visiting with residents every day. “There are people here with local family that never visit them – I try to brighten their days.”
Being helpful, showing empathy, supporting the facility’s hard-working staff, making people smile and feel cared for — it all adds up to giving Probst’s life meaning and purpose. “There’s always somebody worse off to make you realize that it’s not just about you. It’s a big world out there. I feel lucky to be on this earth and wake up everyday. Really, the way I see it, I’m very fortunate to be living here. These folks are like my little family.