In the last weeks of Helene’s life, she entered Calvary, a hospital devoted to end of life care or as Calvary likes to say, “where life continues.” A short distance from her home in Pelham, New York and my office in New Rochelle, as her geriatric care manager, I visited regularly. While I could easily acknowledge that my visits were to support her caregiver who was there daily, I also knew my final good-bye was not far off.
But before my good-bye came, there were conversations with clergy, the social worker, nurses and the sharing of information with the family. The reputation of Calvary has always been stellar so I was not surprised by their responsiveness to Helene’s needs and my queries. What I was not prepared for was the request of her palliative care doctor. It was not medical history or questions about next of kin, but a simple request to see a picture of Helene in the years prior to her decline. I could not think of a doctor, in almost three decades of practice who ever made such a request.
As my relationship with Helene had extended over seven years, I was beyond eager to share pictures and tell stories. The doctor was an enthusiastic listener. There was the photo of a just finished visit to the beauty parlor, another of Helene showing me the house in which she once lived and one of her oldest grandchild standing proudly by her side. Her life as a magazine illustrator was also shared minus pictures.
As geriatric care managers, we are usually called into service when there is a life changing event. While our attention is focused on a presenting issue, we are always mindful that a lifetime preceded the current situation. Illness alone does not define the person. The doctor in his thoughtful gesture understood this and let me tell Helene’s story one last time. Sometimes I think it was for my benefit more than his. Nevertheless, his patient became a person and my good-bye, when it came a week later, was softened by his simple request.