My first term as a "senior mentor" ended this week, and it was a meaningful experience for me.
Hopefully, it also was for my "students" -- three young people on a path toward jobs in the medical profession. I waited to write about this until we had the last of our six visits over a year's time.
That's two visits per semester (in this case -- spring, fall, spring), and we learned about each other. Their assignment, mandatory in their curriculum, was to assess my health status. More on that in a moment.
This is part of the SAGE program -- Seniors Assisting in Geriatric Education -- based at the University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center. It is a program shared by students at UNT and TCU.
Geriatric, as in -- well -- old. The volunteers for the program, such as Beatrice and I have been, must be at least 65. So we're well qualified.
Happy to do it. It really was -- is -- no problem. No pain involved, and I have plenty of time.
The only inconvenience was for the students, who are quite busy with classes and jobs ... and life, and have to coordinate their schedules to meet with us.
Bea was first into the program, having seen an application on a visit to her personal-care physician, who is based at the UNT Health Science Center. Her doctor recommended she join the program, saying Bea was an "excellent" fit.
Bea has just begun meeting with her second group of students. I was a bystander when she met with her first group several times in our apartment, and when Bea suggested I get my own group -- of course, I do what she says -- I filled out my application.
Starting February a year ago, I began meeting with "my kids," as Bea and I referred to them.
And here is what I learned from Chris, Meghan and Maricar -- and I think Bea agrees that it applies to her students: It is so inspiring to see these bright young motivated people eager to learn about dealing with patients and wanting to make a difference in the medical world.
With people like this, this country will not fall apart, thank you.
We were team No. 121, and my students were fortunate in a couple of ways:
(1) Location. Our apartment is less than two miles from the UNT Health Science Center and TCU, where the students have most of their classes.
Some of the SAGE teams -- and there are, we were told, 150 to 200 teams of three or four students -- visit their assigned "mentors" as far as south as Burleson and as far north and east as Plano. So "my kids" had an easy trip.
(2) Bea and I both are in fairly good shape health-wise, except for occasional mishaps (burned feet, ankle fracture). We're not in great shape -- we could work out more, eat better and snack less -- but 3-4 days a week of yoga/stretching at the Downtown YMCA and daily walks (I try not to miss) keep us reasonably well.
Some teams are assigned even older people who are house-bound, perhaps in need of social services and Meals on Wheels deliveries. The program is designed to offer those people access to assistance.
Fortunately, my students didn't find major problems as they assessed my condition. Same for Bea.
On their first visit, Feb. 24 a year ago, my students placed a "Vial of Life" in our refrigerator -- listing my pertinent medical contacts and history, the daily medications I take (we have no prescribed meds). This is a standard service in the program, in case of an emergency.
On each visit, they checked my blood pressure and pulse rate -- and the numbers were remarkably consistent over a year's time. (The numbers were a lot better than those on my doctor or dentist visits.)
Visits included a talk about family medical history, a nutritional assessment, a limited physical and osteopathic structural exam (reflexes, cognitive ability, etc.) and -- the toughest one -- an end-of-life, living-will discussion.
Each time the students took notes and filled out forms because they were required to submit them for class. (Glad they were the ones taking notes.)
One of my group is a Baylor University graduate, married for a year, and aiming to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine. But before continuing on that path will come a year of studying theology -- a spiritual calling.
Another is about to graduate from TCU with a degree in nursing, and already she has a job as a nursing assistant in a local hospital. Her applications are in to fulfill her goal to be a labor/delivery nurse soon.
The third has a B.A. degree in biology from UNT (Denton) and wants a career in pharmacy, but might stay in school to work on a master's and possible a doctorate.
When I asked what they had learned from the SAGE program, I thought the answer from one was right on: "We want the ability to communicate better with patients, so that we can be better prepared to meet the patients' needs."
My sense is these people are prepared, or will be soon enough.
So this is, in my opinion, one of the benefits of senior-citizen (geriatric) status. For my friends our age, if there are programs such as this one in your area, I recommend that you volunteer.
The first question Tuesday, in our final meeting, was, "Do you want to participate again in this program?"
My answer: definitely. Next group, please. It's a sage thing to do.