Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Contact with Families after a Patient's Death

On April 28 I wrote a post to report that the New York Times Ethicist column had taken a quote about doctor-patient sex from this site. The next day I received a phone message from Langley Danowitz, daughter of Emily Lublin, a long time patient of mine, who had died in 2000 at age 84. Emily had a great sense of humor. We had a warm, friendly relationship and very much enjoyed working together on various vicissitudes of her 70s and 80s. At one point Emily said - "you have to promise not to retire before I die." I was sad when she died, but happy to have been able to keep my promise.

Emily and her daughter Langley were close. Over the years I heard a lot about Emily's visits with Langley, who lives in New York. Langley and her husband Jeff conducted a memorial for Emily in Boston, which I attended, and met them there. When Langley saw my name in the New York Times column she called me, to thank me for caring for her mother and to give some news about herself.

When I returned Langley's call we reminisced about her mother, and I heard about how Langley has reinvented herself as an actor when a job she'd been in for 30 years ended. Langley told me she is a "young looking 70 year old," and explained how the advertising industry has used her when they want an athletic, youthful-looking, older person. Since aging is one of the topics I write about on this blog (as well as on Over65, which I co-edit) I invited Langley to write about how she adapted to the end of her long time job. She wrote the delightful piece that follows. I'm publishing it and have spoken in this post about her mother Emily with her permission:

           Part I - Adjusting

Five years ago, when I was (requested to) retire from being the corporate controller (MBA) for a manufacturing company, I was relieved but mostly terrified. After 30 years of non-stop work, I had no idea what I would do to keep myself sane, out of trouble and out of the refrigerator. And although I had always enjoyed the domestic scene, was an avid gym-goer, and had loving family, my life had revolved around the office for as long as I could remember. My 2 thoughts when I got the word were: “you mean I don’t have to come here anymore?” and “omg, now what do I do?” My wonderful husband, Jeff, who had served as Homefront Captain for years, graciously re-introduced me to Laundry and I stampeded into the fray. For weeks, I used my considerable energy cooking and cleaning, organizing and discarding, baking and searing, writing and phoning. Mind you, I was still getting up at 5:30 AM to get to the gym by 6:30 – sleeping in had not occurred to me. Change my Type A style? Never in my mind! Occasionally, I must admit when I raced around my Upper East Side NYC hood, I noticed other gals of an age lunching together and shopping or just strolling…where did they find each other and why did they look so…was it “relaxed”? I wished I had some friends too but – it seemed everyone I knew was still working. Where would I find people to like who would like me too?

Part II – I find a friend

I decided to take up the piano – I’m musical and love a challenge. I hung a sign in our Laundry Room – “Adult student, plays by ear, needs patient piano teacher” and someone penciled on it: “Apt 1222 teaches”. I adopted Friend #1 – my 1982 Kawai console piano, which, as the movers remarked, matches our living room furniture. I found not one, but two teachers, who proceeded to complement and battle each other for my soul. I played in my first recital after 4 lessons – a day which shall live in my annals of terror forever. I basked in the applause and drank lots of wine afterwards.

Part III – I hit the boards

As you can tell, I was learning how resilient I am. So – I finally tackled something I had always wanted to do – become an actor! You should know, I probably came out of the womb taking a bow. After all, I studied Speech at Northwestern and played Little Buttercup in junior high. Now, I had the time to do it professionally – could I? Only one way to find out - headshots, acting resume (somewhat bogus at first), agents – ta dah! As you can tell – modesty is not moi. And, with my physical fitness + energy, I figured that if I said I could do it, I would do it. And now I have the hula hooping (Wellcare Insurance), push upping (Advil) and headstanding (Geisinger) TV credits to prove it.

More to come????
Having the opportunity to know people in depth and work with them on their health and well-being over time is one of the core privileges in being a physician, nurse or other health professional. Thirteen years after Emily Lublin's death I had fond memories of her, and I was moved that her daughter Langley, who I'd only met once, had memories of me from what she'd heard from her mother. Having an opportunity to be once again in the role of Emily Lublin's clinician talking about her with her daughter 13 years after her death is an experience I cherish and feel lucky to have had.

(I couldn't find YouTube videos showing Langley standing on her head in a Geisinger commericial, doing push ups for Advil, or hula hooping for Wellcare, but I did find this tamer video of her in an advertisement for iYogi.

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