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Watching the trajectory of patients' lives

Being a doctor in itself is a cool enough thing. But being a doctor in the same community and community hospital for over 15 years is fantastically more cool. Watching the trajectory of my patient’s lives was not something medical school had prepared me for.

I have cried with a beautiful older woman as she buried two of children, suffered through, pulled herself together. I made a “house call” to bring her fried oysters from Ocean Pizza, and we just sat and laughed while she told hilarious tales of her younger years in New London. Leaving, I made her swear secrecy about her cardiologist bringing fried oysters. And then, last year, I grieved with her daughter when this most magnificent 97-year-old woman died.

My Dad still practices medicine. He has that perfect mixture of having-seen-it-all wisdom, a gentle compassion, and tireless work ethic. I will never be half the doctor he is. He won’t retire, he said, because seeing patients is now like “visiting with old friends.”

Doctors see it all: love lost and regained, deaths, births, victims of hideous crimes, sickness bringing down the strong, health and exercise rejuvenating the weak. I’ve met horrific criminals who are charming and holy men with the compassion of a toad. And all of it has a kind of overarching beauty to it, made better by watching it unfold over the arc of time.

But there is one disease that still unsettles me. I know it the moment I see a well-known patient, an “old friend,” who seems to have lost the spark, staring instead with the characteristic aloofness of dementia. Dementia, more than any other disease, robs people of their “selves” before they die.

Our treatments are ineffective. They say, however, that keeping an active mind can prevent dementia. And what mind is more active than the mind of someone falling in love. Which, of course, got me scheming.

With all these websites being advertised to help lonely singles meet (and mate), you would think it a miracle that humans were able to propagate the species before the internet. But old people don’t want to start dating through no stinkin' internet! And yet they rarely get out to meet other singles. Ping! The light went off, and I realized that I could start a whole new profession as a matchmaker!

Not long ago, a truly classy nonogenarian was in my office talking about his life, his widower-hood, his loneliness, and I encouraged him to meet other people. “Hell,” I said, “why not start dating!” Well, he told me recently that he took my advice, whispering secretively about courting his 90+ year old love interest with all the verve and hopeful excitement of a pimply faced kid who just asked a girl to the prom.

And she accepted.


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