I promptly lost my first Medicare card. When I opened the envelope and saw the red, white and blue border, I was reminded of the elderly I cared for over twenty years ago when I was a gerontological nurse practitioner. I ran a not-for-profit clinic in a converted one-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a senior citizen highrise in Chicago. How many times had I asked to see someone’s Medicare card? Most of my patients were poor, illiterate and had multiple health problems. So when I first looked at my card, I could only remember loneliness, despair and disability. This couldn’t be happening to me. And, poof, the card was gone.
Slowly other patients strolled into my memory. Mildred, blind and lived alone, always asked me to put her kitchen cabinets back in order after her daughter visited. Margie, ninety-something with an Irish brogue, came down to the clinic, laughing as she told us how she chased away the prostitutes with her broom. The prostitutes frequently slipped into the building to solicit and rob the older men.
But Helen was my favorite. She lived in an apartment next to the clinic. She dropped in when I wasn’t busy. She called me Kiddo. She had one son who hardly visited but I rarely heard her complain—about anything. She was the one who taught me not to be uncomfortable talking about death.
Of course, I know older people live longer and are healthier than years ago. I now have the time to write, paint and play with grandchildren. I would like to go back in time and share my experiences of aging with Mildred, Margie and Helen. These resilient women would laugh when I tell them how I lost my first Medicare card.