When I tell people that I frequently work with the elderly, I often get remarks that suggest they feel badly for me spending my time in such a fashion. After several years, this response still manages to surprise me every time. I believe my time spent with these individuals enriches my life in numerous and immeasurable ways.
I remember back to when I was interviewing for an internship specific to geriatrics and was asked why I wanted to work with this population of patients. My only real thought was, “because I have so much to learn about life”. I cannot possibly experience everything there is in this life but I can listen to other people’s tales. I grew up with many older relatives – women in my family tend to be long-lived – and always took the things they told me for granted. This, I suppose, is normal in youth and it was only after the number of older family members was lessening that I realized how much I had gained by their presence in my life. As is the case in these situations, I was never able to thank them for what they had given me – a curiosity about people and the circumstances that they have lived through. More importantly I believe I’ve learned that it is possible to live through life’s ups and downs and that the downs are inevitably followed by the ups.
Recently, I discovered just how much I do depend on the strength and belief in the future being better that I’ve gained from my experiences with older adults. My one year old was diagnosed with two congenital heart defects this past summer and it was a whirlwind of medical tests and appointments and decisions to be made quickly. Within a few short weeks, he was having surgery and then had some complications. What was supposed to be a 4 or 5 day hospital stay stretched to 3 weeks – the first 7 days he was on a ventilator unable to breathe for himself. I knew he and my 3 year old both needed me to be strong and positive when I was scared out of my mind. They relied on me and my husband, and I relied on the life lessons I have learned from all those who have been good enough to share their stories with me. As he grows, I know he will also take others life experiences for granted and likely roll his eyes when someone starts an “I remember when” story. It is my intention to give him as many chances to hear these tales as possible given our hectic lives these days.
It is unfortunate that so many people do not understand why I enjoy the work that I do, and why I enjoy working with the people that I do. I believe I have gained so much – and have so much more to gain – from these interactions with people willing to share their life stories and lessons with me. I want to believe they gain something from our time together as well.
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