I am not exactly sure if our relationship started as a doctor-patient or meeting at the Special Olympics sporting events because it was many years ago. When I moved to Florida, 85 seemed to be an old age, at least on paper. But it certainly was not for Winnie. She was heavily involved with Special Olympics. Her grandson was a somewhat reluctant participant from a sports aspect. However, he shined musically, belting out the National Anthem at each event bringing a tear to everyones eye as we watched him stand proudly. Some would say he was severely challenged with more than his share of medical ailments. But once he dazzled you with his charm, you realized he was a gift. Caring for Jeffrey did not seem to slow or bother Winnie in any way, as she was the sole caregiver of Jeffrey since her daughter had passed away from cancer. In fact, not only did she participate in the Special Olympics with Jeffery but she took him to piano lessons and encouraged his love of music through dancing and singing. He also loved trains and they took many trips to visit train museums and take train rides. She has had a few orthopedic ailments along the way that has slowed her for a day or two and then she was back making Jeffery’s favorite meals and planning their next adventures. No take out for this lady. She was raised with a garden and fresh vegetables and she continued to cook three meals a day for the two of them using fresh ingredients. The cooking required more education as Jeffery’s kidneys failed and she had to make sure his diet was not too rich in potassium and contained the right nutrient balance. No worries for her, it was a mere adjustment. She made sure he got his daily exercise swimming and dancing and this routine did not slow as she entered her nineties. Some might observe their plight and see great difficulty and stress especially for a lady in her nineties. Some would say she lived for Jeffery, but it was easy to observe that they brought each other, and those around them, great joy. I witnessed her loving detailed attention to Jeffery’s every need and a relentless dedication to making his life happy. He eventually had to start dialysis three times a week. To them it was a minor adjustment to their routine of swimming, dancing, and learning. She took a few days off in her early nineties to get a pacemaker. She did have to have a little help when she tripped and fell breaking her hip, but rehabilitation did not take her too long before she was back at the helm directing their daily routines. There was a bout with breast cancer that was treated only by taking out the tumor. Her involvement with the community has never slowed, being active in church and volunteering with the veteran’s administration making quilts. She and Jeffery participated several days a week making quilts for the veterans administration. When Jeffrey’s condition deteriorated, she did not falter or worry. She revised her daily care plan according to his needs. She did not want strangers taking care of him and continued to make his favorite foods and do the activities he loved at a slower pace. Jeffry died peacefully at home with her at his side and at peace. We talk often of the good times we all experienced when Jeffrey was around. A huge part of her life was gone that could not be replaced. She donated money to the church to build a greeting area in his name so that he would be remembered as the smiling greeter that he was each week at church. She resumed her quilting routine and went back to playing bridge. The cancer is progressing slowly. She recently had another trip and fall, breaking her hip at 100 years of age and is now in rehabilitation recovery nicely.
Enlightened? An angel? A grandmother? A friend? Yes, I believe she is all of those. We have nice chats at the office and currently at her bedside. Her stories never fail to bring a smile to my face and her grace amazes me. I have never appreciated that she feels any of these things were a stress or a struggle. They just were and are. They are all a part of her journey that she cherishes but does not dwell. It is never long about yesterday but more about today. What will the day bring? She does not label it good or bad but it just is. Does she get angry? She sure does. Does she hold onto it? Not in the least. She shrugged her shoulders and says “Oh well,” and then smiles and tells another story. She has been on the Winnie train and continues to ride not needing to be the director but accepts whatever destination lies ahead.
So, if you are struggling, perhaps think of Winnie and the example she sets for us all. Or take time to appreciate what the elders in your family have experienced. We are all on a journey and it is best experienced together.
The best part of being a physician is the relationships with people. I am blessed to be a part of the lives of such wonderful people, and I believe this is the true practice of medicine which has nothing to do with the present day healthcare delivery system.
Thank you, Winnie, for allowing me to share your journey.