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Sue Bush
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EMS: Courage and Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
06:23AM / Monday, May 14, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is a certified paramedic and the operations manager for the Village Ambulance Service in Williamstown, Mass..
Open Your Eyes

Many researchers predict that by the year 2025, men and women 65 and older will make up about 49% of the U.S. population, making it the fasting growing strata in today’s society. The statistics for Europe and Japan are comparable.

New projections from the U.S. National Institute of Aging predict that by 2040 the average life-expectancy for American men could rise to up to 87 years. That’s 17 years longer than today’s average. The same study projects American women could reach an average life expectancy of 92 years, dramatically higher than the once predicted life-expectancy of 78 years.

For you "younger" readers, this research reveals that our generation is blessed with a possibility of a longer life, thus exposing us to a greater wealth of positive and negative life-experiences we can eventually pass on to future generations. But will they listen?

Life's Lessons

Sadly, it seems the elderly have become society's most overlooked and often undervalued generation of people. I hold a particular interest in the elderly not only because a large percentage of my job is spent caring for them, but because of what they have experienced through life, and their willingness to share the lessons learned from those experiences. They have taught me a great deal about who I am and who I eventually can become as I grow older.

Meeting elderly patients between the unfamiliar and sometimes frightening walls of an ambulance is the closest I have come to people with this much knowledge and insight regarding life.

Working as a paramedic has allowed me the opportunity to learn from the elderly; to become the proud and fortunate beneficiary of immeasurable life stories that, through what I believe are intrinsic genealogical forces, are meant to be shared, valued, and thought-provoking.

Live for Today, Learn from Yesterday, Shape A Better Tomorrow

Every day these precious life stories are lost as the elderly die or suffer the devastation of stroke, Alzheimer's disease, or other incapacitating mental illness.

It seems today’s society is so obsessed with the idea of modernization and advancement (which I feel has its place in human growth and development), that the wisdom passed down from older generations is often disregarded or, in many instances, not considered “youthful” enough.

I believe we shouldn’t ignore these contributions, but use them to our advantage. Their stories are legacies and should always serve to enrich the lives of others.

"Crabby Old Woman?"

When an elderly woman died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, most felt she left nothing behind of significant value. Then a nurse, while going through the woman’s remaining possessions, found the poem printed below. The writing touched the nurse so deeply she made copies and distributed it to coworkers in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to France; another to Ireland. The poem has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.

"What do you see, nurses, what do you see?

What are you thinking when you're looking at me?

A crabby old woman, not very wise

uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,

who dribbles her food and makes no reply

when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try."

Who seems to not notice the things that you do

and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will

with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.

Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still

as I use at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,

brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,

dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.

A bride soon at twenty -- my heart gives a leap,

remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own

who need me to guide and a secure happy home.

A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,

bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,

but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.

At fifty once more babies play round my knee,

again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;

I look at the future, I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing young of their own,

and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;

'tis jest to make age look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,

there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,

and now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,

and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years -- all too few, gone too fast,

and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,

not a crabby old woman; look closer -- see ME!!"

In many cultures, the elderly are greatly respected for their stories, love, and vastness of wisdom. Listening to them can be a gift not only for you, but for them as well.

"When [an elderly person] dies, a library burns to the ground."

- An interpretation of an African Proverb
Your Comments
Post Comment
WONDERFUL! Just wonderful!
from: Colleenon: 06-07 00:00:00-2007

What a compelling and eye-opening article!
from: Joanon: 05-17 00:00:00-2007

That was a great article, I loved the poem it brought a tear to my eyes, I have an elderly step dad who I love dearly I am so lucky to still have him in my life, Sometimes I am in hurry and not always listening thank you for opening my ears.I look forward to your articles keep up the good work.
from: Darleneon: 05-16 00:00:00-2007

Read the article yesterday but didn't have time to leave a comment. I was actually going to my grandfather's to tell him I love him. Thanks for the article.
from: Stephanon: 05-15 00:00:00-2007

That poem was incredible and is a great reminder to all of us.
from: Taraon: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

Keep up the good work Shawn! Your story and the poem reminded me of a picture I once saw in the 80's. It showed our elderly in a nursing home all sitting against a wall and the caption stated " an elderly Eskimo used to freeze to death, we bury ours alive!"
from: Arthur Sachson: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

Another good article.
from: Timon: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

When i see elderly people I often think of our grandfather who was 96 when he died and still was as sharp as a knife. He told the best stories of years you and I can only read about and he was actually there!!!! good article shawn!
from: bernieon: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

Great dedication to our elderly people! I agree that they are often considered unworthy of input and advice in our society. I love you nanny!

from: Jorgeon: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

Shawn, you have a wonderful way of opening the readers eyes. Your article choices have been and continue to be thoughtful and interesting. You show your compassion every week. Thank you. ;)
from: gold deuce girlon: 05-14 00:00:00-2007

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