Transitions tend to be times when we have a chance to evaluate our lives. I’m at one of those points now with the recent passing of my father at age 91. He lived with or near me for the last 10 years of his life so I was very involved in his care. Based on that time, I’ve developed a new theory of how to live a quality life.
Aim for Quality
So let me start with a metaphor to describe my new theory. In 2001, I started applying for graduate school. As part of the application process, I had to take a computerized standardized entrance exam. I poured over several study guides since I hadn’t taken this type of test in quite a while. One of the study guides gave an interesting tip — focus carefully on the test’s first 10 questions and try to get those correct. That’s because the test’s algorithm is set up to move you to a higher level — and thus, a higher score — if you get a majority of those first answers right. If you don’t do well on those early test questions, the algorithm automatically moves you to a lower level. At this point, you will never be able to attain a higher score, no matter how well you do on the remaining questions. So how does taking a graduate school entrance exam equate to life?
Dad and His Doctors
My father always enjoyed schmoozing and often picked his “team” based on how well they could joke around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you want to base your decisions on other factors.
Take, for instance, selecting a doctor. Dad had to find a new geriatrician when he moved closer to me. I periodically would join Dad for appointments with his new physician and soon realized that Dad enjoyed seeing his doctor because they would joke around. However, in my opinion, the quality of medical care seemed to be lacking since this doctor’s standard method was to prescribe another pill as opposed to trying to figure out if there was another way to deal with Dad’s health issues.
A few years later, Dad was saddened that his doctor was closing his practice. I, however, was relieved. Then we began searching for another doctor. I had served on the organizing committee for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s a few years earlier and the committee members all spoke glowingly about this one doctor. I suggested him to Dad and we got an appointment. Fortunately, this doctor took Dad on as a new patient.
So what did this decision mean? In my mind, this one decision meant Dad moved up to the higher bracket. Dad had a doctor who listened, cared and made quality decisions. This doctor actually dropped a number of medications that Dad previously had been prescribed. These aspects were much more important in the long run than how funny he was.
This doctor also suggested a quality rehab facility where Dad could regain his strength after being hospitalized in 2013. That rehab facility – which also took residents who needed long-term care — became Dad’s home after a long hospitalization in 2014 when it became evident that he could no longer live with me. The entire staff – the nurses, aides, maintenance staff, activity staff, dietary staff, cleaning crew and administration — was so kind and compassionate and the care was consistently outstanding.
In September, Dad’s health deteriorated and he faced some very difficult choices as his body gave out on him. That’s where the quality of Dad’s earlier choices made a resounding difference. Dad’s doctor was willing to go to an out-of-network hospital to have end-of-life discussions with Dad during the last week of his life. The choice was to return to his previous facility with Hospice or go to a nursing home with a PEG tube. Dad chose to move back to his previous residence with Hospice care on a Friday and died the following Wednesday. Honestly, Dad ended his life being in the higher bracket because he had the type of death that you wish everyone would have – peaceful, no pain and surrounded by people who loved him.
Applying This Theory to Life
With Dad gone, I’m now trying to apply this theory in my own life, beyond just selecting medical personnel. In fact, I think it also applies in other ways.
Take food, for example. I’ve found that my digestive system has changed as I’ve aged. Menu items such as fried foods now disagree with me to the point of making me nauseous. Therefore, I’ve started listening to my body when making choices about what to eat. I’ve found that I physically feel much, much better when I eat more vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes and less meat, processed foods and sugar. And these choices are going to help my body function more optimally as I age. Therefore, by making these choices, I am moving myself up into a higher bracket in relation to my long-term health.
I hope you’ll try out my theory in your own life. Focus on the decisions and choices you have right in front of you. Do the best you can and aim for quality. Then see if those choices help you live a happier, fuller and more vibrant life.