Now six months away from graduating from medical school, I’ve started to reflect on the patients who hold a special place in my heart and memories, who taught me invaluable life lessons.
We were in the assisted-living home of an elderly couple who had agreed to meet with us so we could practice our interviewing skills as first-year medical students. The old woman was sitting in a reclining armchair, leaning back. She had multiple medical problems, including depression and memory loss. She didn’t speak much, but she smiled at us occasionally. Her husband told us about the condition of her health. “She can’t walk much anymore. The swelling in her legs never goes down anymore. So I try to take her for a short walk down the hallway every other day. Otherwise I’m afraid she’ll eventually be stuck in her chair.”
“What about all of the activities offered in this living facility? It seems like there’s a good community here. Do you like being here?” my classmate asked.
“I don’t really go to too many things here. She needs me. I have to take care of her,” he said as he fondly gazed at his wife.
“How long have you been married? How did you two meet?”
The man settled in for what seemed like a long story. “We met 58 years ago, when she was 18 and I was 21. We’ve been married for 56 years! We were in the same town. There was a dance there in the main hall in our town, and I saw her at the dance. She was the prettiest one there. I asked her to dance; she said no.”
“And then what happened?” we prompted him.
“Well, a year later, I was at a meeting. She was the one helping out with the event planning there! I marched up to her and asked her if she remembered me. She said yes. I asked her out to dinner, and she accepted right then. We got married the year after that. We’ve been through a lot. It’s hard. I can’t do much on my own now, since I have to take care of her, but this is what I want to be doing. There isn’t anything else I want to do now than to take care of her. She needs me; I’m here. I try to take care of myself because she needs me.”
Finally, there was one last question that we had for him: “Fifty-six years is a long time to be married. Do you have any tips or advice about marriage? How did you make it work?”
With a happy twinkle in his eye, the man replied, “I learned how to say ‘Yes, dear!’ very quickly!”