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A lesson from my patients: Walking your talk

Ingram Publishing | ThinkStock

Ingram Publishing | ThinkStock

One of the things that’s changed most since I started nursing more than a decade ago is the concept of age. 70 used to be old. Now 70 is middle-aged, mostly, and we’re seeing more and more patients in their late 80s and 90s, usually in better shape than 70-year-olds were 10 years ago.

With that lengthening of the time people are healthy comes interesting changes. People are getting remarried now, sometimes more than once, when their spouses die or they divorce. Families get more and more blended. Sometimes it’s hard to sort out who’s related to whom.

A year or so ago, I had an elderly man in who’d had a minor stroke. He and his first wife had adopted 20-some-odd children over the years, from the time they were first married until he was well into his 70s. She died six years ago, and he’d remarried at the age of 90. His wife was 80-something.

So here we have this man, now age 92, and his wife, and his various adopted kids, some of whom had kids and even grandkids of their own. (His oldest, a son, was in his 70s and had a great-grandchild.) I asked how he’d been able to support the constant flow of children, some formally adopted and some just taken in, on his wages as the pastor of a very small fundamentalist church.

He told me that God had not blessed him and his first wife with children, but that God had raised up a table that made it possible for them to care for kids who had nowhere else to go. I nodded; I don’t argue politics or religion at work.

Then his wife said, calmly, that she and he hadn’t yet had any children, but that they’d only been married two years; who knew what could happen?

I opened my mouth, then shut it. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand basic biology; she just lived in a different world than I did. God had sent a child to Rebekah and Sarah and Elizabeth, so why not her?

I am not religious. Not even a little. I was so touched, though, by those folks. They walked their talk, they obviously loved and enjoyed each other, they had fun together, they flirted. With somebody like that, 90-plus wouldn’t be so bad.

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