Until I started working in the Internal Medicine field, I never thought I’d love elderly people so much. I had grandparents growing up that of course I loved dearly, but there was something about them that seemed somewhat disconnected from me. Mostly, I attributed it to their age; I thought that they couldn’t relate to me and the things I did because they were so much older. That and I found it hard to sit down and have a good conversation with them about anything more than how school was going and what I planned to do when I grew up. Too bad I felt that way as a child, because I surely look at them and the geriatric population in a completely different way today.

After spending 2 years in an emergency room, taking care of newborns through adults, I changed fields and entered into my current job in internal medicine. The first day of work I noticed that 80% of my patient population was over the age of 50. Basically, I felt like I was taking care of my parents and grandparents each day. I soon learned that I did not miss the kids. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but when they are sick and yelling and screaming while you fight them to look into their ears or throats, believe me, you wouldn’t miss it either!

I noticed that the younger patients who I did see in my office were often somewhat embarrassed to open up to me about their symptoms and problems. When I talked with the older patients, they looked me in the eye and told me exactly how they felt. The younger patients often skipped appointments if they were feeling better rather than calling in to cancel. The older population often still followed up as they were scheduled, “Just to be sure everything is ok.” There are always going to be some rude or non-compliant patients out there no matter the age, but what struck me about my geriatric patients was that they had no problem being kind but honest with me. If they felt a new treatment was going to be a waste of their time, they said so. I remember recommending one gentleman go see a hematologist about his abnormal blood labs and easy bruising; he flat out refused. He said, “Let’s recheck the labs again; if they are still abnormal and I need another transfusion then I will think about seeing this specialist.” He just didn’t want to be bothered, at the ripe young age of 92, with yet another doctor’s appointment when he could be at home enjoying his time with his wife. I can’t say that I blamed him.

The best part of my day is when I actually have a few extra minutes to delve into a patient’s interests or history a little further and get to hear some of the unique stories that are out there. If they would let me, most of my older folks would love to sit and talk an hour just about how things have changed since they were young. Many of them remark to me on how young I look and how could I be the one taking care of them? I am “too young to be a doctor.” I find this cute, because I am not really a doctor, but they still call me this even when I try to correct them.

I find more pleasure in my work after caring for this population, because they are often the first ones to thank me just for listening to them. They often do not care if I know for sure what their medical problem is; if I have listened and showed sincere interest in their symptoms and explained how we were going to go about looking into their problems, that was as good to them as a diagnosis. Sometimes, I do nothing more than reassure them that the rash is nothing more than a few mosquito bites clustered over their ankle or that the cough and sniffles is just a cold and not lung cancer. Just my words can bring the biggest smiles to their faces and a “thank you so much!” several times before they head down the hallway and out the door. What this population of patients does for my self esteem and pride as a healthcare provider is nothing short of priceless.

Today’s simplest pleasure:

Get to know a few people in a different age bracket than your own; you’ll be surprised the lessons they can teach you and the satisfaction it can bring to be able to connect to those outside your own generation.

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