Friday, October 27, 2006

The Youth May Be Our Future, But The Elderly Are Our Heritage!

A patient I saw at my dental office the other day has left a huge impression on my heart and I haven't been able to stop thinking about her and her story.

We'll call her Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Jones is 92, she was coming in for an extraction of tooth #20. Because of her age, and since someone mentioned she was coming from an assisted living home, I expected her to come with a nurse, as patients with similar status
usually do. I was somewhat surprised to walk into the waiting room to see a very well-dressed and accesorized lady who appeared to be a decade younger than her biological age...without a nurse.

Our inital dialogue: "Mrs. Jones, good morning! (I said in my best, "I know this is the last place you'd ever want to be but I'll try to make it as pleasant and enjoyable as I possibly can because I care about you and your teeth and I don't want you to hate coming to the dentist," voice.)
Her response: "Oh yeah, what's so good about it!"

She has a horrible time hearing with no hearing in one ear and limited ability in the other. I yelled in a voice you'd use to get someone's attention who was standing on the other side of a speeding train, and she still barely heard what I was saying. Her mantra for the first half of her appointment was, "I'm very mad at that Dentist." So as you can imagine, we got off to a rocky start.

She was very open and shared a lot of information with me. I learned that she used to work for a culinary company and she would travel around to many places, that is, until her then boyfriend decided they should be married and she should quit working (remember this was probably the 1930's). She told me how she used to be a very jovial person, how she enjoyed life very much. Now, to hear her explain, she has nothing to look forward to, only pain to endure, as she hopes and prays every day for God to take her away to heaven. She says the assisted living home she lives in is very nice, but nothing compared to the cute home she used to own. She doesn't partake in many of the activities they offer because she can't hear. Instead she sits with three other women and knits or does word searches. She seems to have a very sharp mind. She was sure to let us know that after she had an MRI done recently, they told her she had the "best brain they'd seen in a long time".

I stood there and listened to her talk about all that her life had boiled down to, not saying much since she didn't really hear what I said anyway. On the outside I was intensely interested, but on the inside I was partially listening and partially wondering when the dentist would come in and start the procedure because, after all, we run a tight schedule and don't like to keep patents waiting. I mean, it's not like I can form a lasting, meaningful relationship with someone I've spoken with once for 15 minutes.

And then, while she spoke of what her life once was and all that she feels she has lost and how she just wants to die, she began to cry. Not just watery eyes cry, but really cry with big tears. She said that most of the time she just sits and crys because of the constant pain that she endures, and her despair that God hasn't taken her home to be with Him yet. And my heart began to break, and I began to cry with her. At that moment, nothing else was as important as loving Mrs. Jones and finding a way to restore her hope.

Keeping the dental details to a minimum, her mouth pain was relieved, her worries were calmed, and she repeated at least 6 times, "I'm not mad at that Dentist anymore!"

But as she left, I couldn't help but think about how she would go to her "home" and sit in sadness.

I've been trying to figure out how to visit her without violating any HIPAA laws. As she spoke to me, a stranger, I was touched by the way her words flowed with such ease. All she wanted was someone to listen, she's had a life full of experiences and doesn't have much left except her memories. Which, in a way, are painful for her. She thought it would be best if everyone got Alzheimer's, that way they wouldn't know what was going on and could be happy in their ignorance.

I'm realizing just how important it is to spend time with and love the elderly people in our lives. Find out their stories, listen to the experiences they've had. Love those people in your life that don't seem to have a clue about what's going on in today's world. They may not, but they know a lot more about what it was like living in the past than we ever will. Imagine yourself in their position and how much it would mean to you to have someone spend one hour with you, just talking.


Bill Garnett said...

Thank you - yours is a not a posting I would normally read. I am so glad I did. And screw the HIPAA rules for heaven's sake.

I lived recently in Saudi Arabia. There is not one old age home in that country. Saudi families take care of their own; they actually have "family values" as opposed to the rhetoric about “family values” I hear now that I'm back in America.

There is a baby boom generation now moving into this phase of life and I worry that they will face an even bleaker period at the end of their lives than did their parents.

I've often wondered that kindergartens would be well placed next to old age homes with an interaction provided that would be beneficial to both groups.

Again, thanks - perhaps you learned a lesson; perhaps you have shared a lesson.

Jennifer said...

Thanks, Bill, for your comment. Isn't it funny how so many other cultures seem to "get it" when it comes to taking care of family. Chinese, Iranian, and Hispanic friends of mine have older family members living with them and wouldn't have it any other way.

I love your idea of kindergartens next to old age homes, how perfect!