A Doctor’s Simple Request

A Doctor’s Simple Request

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.

Doing My Good Deed in Hartsdale, New York

A few weeks ago, I did my good deed in Hartsdale, New York. A small town, in central Westchester County with a  population of a little over five thousand people.  What did I do?  I helped an older man cross the street. Something you would have expected of a scout, but this geriatric care manager, never a Girl Scout, just rose to the occasion.  It could have been out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but it was just me walking up the street at the right time and a gentleman, cane in hand, brace on neck, about to step into the street.

It went something like this. First of all, Hartsdale Avenue is a busy thoroughfare connecting two major county routes. To my way of thinking, it is what we call a NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community. Both sides of the street are flanked with apartment houses. People who reside on Hartsdale Avenue are just starting out in life or winding down. This gentleman was the latter. Despite his cane, he was unsteady as he stepped from the curb into the street. He was not at a light and crossing zones designated by horizontal lines in the street are ignored by most drivers. Seeing the potential for an accident, I approached the gentleman  and suggested he wait for a moment. I walked into the traffic coming from both directions. No reflective vest or “stop/go” placard, I became a momentary crossing guard. I extended my arms in both directions. Cars stopped and the gentleman crossed the street. About forty minutes later, after leaving a client’s home on the same block, I looked across the street. There was the gentleman sitting on a bench on a lovely spring day.

I share  this story with you, not to tell you of my good deed, but as an example of what has to be done in communities to make them senior friendly. Here in Westchester County, New York we have such a program called “Livable Communities.”  It is just that, volunteers looking at various aspects of their towns: the evenness of sidewalks, the time span of a red light, supportive services, anything that can make it possible for an older adult to live safely and longer at home.

So why did this gentleman cross the street in Hartsdale, New York?  Probably for the same reason the chicken crossed the road, he wanted to get to the other side. I just feel fortunate I was able to make his crossing a little safer.