Read the Dr. McCullough Transcript
Robert: You've been involved in a rather elite group in New Hampshire of well-to-do, well-connected, well-educated people who've had, I'd like you to describe, who've had kind of a wonderful opportunity to see slow medicine at its best.
Robert: Can this be recapitulated?
Dennis: Well retirement communities have the opportunity, I think, to build their own culture, their own general culture and their own medical culture around healthcare issues. And basically, I had misgivings about going to a community of people who were fairly well off because in the past I'd made house calls to the end of the road in Northern New England, where people had their fuel oil tanks in the kitchen right next to their heating stove, and I know what poverty is in rural New England.
But what it did is it gave me a chance to go and learn. And when I went start as medical director in this retirement community in 1991, I said, "I want to go to a place where I can actually learn something about what's it like being older and how older people think about these issues. And then I wanted to take that and do something with it.
So I went there to be mentored in a way. And this is very interesting to me in that here I am, I was at the time about 50 years old, and I was still looking for a mentor. And my sense is as I've been around older people more and more is that we can learn so much from them. In a sense, in our life cycle, we always need mentors coming from the generations in front of us to tell us how to be when we're older, how to be a gracious older patient person. How to face the end of your life with equanimity. So that's what I was able to do. I had wonderful partnering, but I don't think it's exclusive to a community of elite. That I think that physicians and others and all of us can learn from elders, regardless of their setting. And I've worked in Third World countries where I think that I've seen families function and I've learned from them about caring for aging.
Robert: Do you have any tips, any specific things that I should be thinking about right now, not only to help aged relatives, but for myself?
Dennis: Hang around a little bit with people who are older, who you spot and say, there's a kind of person I'd like to get a sense of what they think about, how they're addressing the sort of complexities that are coming in their own life, the medical problems they're having. I had some just wonderful mentors who were patient friends that I hung around with and sort of listened to, and much of my book comes from those stories.