Prodigies in reverse

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

I experienced many crushing disappointments growing up. A trespassing fairy with a tooth fetish didn't leave a dime under my pillow? Ernie and Bert aren't brothers? Affordable healthcare isn't a right? But the worst was realizing I was too old to be a prodigy. There's an age limit, apparently, or maybe it's height or weight. Regardless, I didn't qualify.  

Mercifully, life moves on, and 50 years later, I'm almost over it. Mostly because everything's reversed now, and no one is astonished and inspired by my youthful acts of precocious prowess. They're just amazed at what I can still do, even at my age. The bar is low — things like being able to tweet, or rise from a seated position. They're awestruck, but it's not the same.

We glorify youth and potential. We teasingly mock decline. We wrap up brain games and toy iPads for a 5-year-old's birthday, but I received a cane and a tube of Bengay at my 40th. 

After the good-natured mocking comes the quiet pity. I remember visiting a nursing home where my attention was directed to an elderly gentleman sitting slack-jawed in a wheelchair across the room. “He was first violin in the symphony,” my guide told me. 

I wanted to talk to him about it, but didn't, so there he sat, oblivious, while we admired his achievements from afar. 

It takes energy, commitment — and for me, courage — to engage a resident about the high points of the journey that brought him here. Across long-term care I've seen the full spectrum, from companies that just go through the motions to those that tell life stories in ROI-defying glossy magazines, and sponsor expensive and time-consuming wish fulfillment programs. 

I'm inspired by employees and organizations that see a moral imperative to understanding who our residents really are and celebrating their life achievements — instead of treating them like prodigies in reverse.


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