On several occasions, I’ve written about people who have mastered the fine art of aging gracefully. One such person we deeply miss is Dr. Ramon “Monching” Abarquez Jr., who passed away around a month and a half ago, a few months short of his 90th birthday.
Last Sunday, on the 40th day after his death, his loving wife Agnes invited family and close friends. Everyone again had anecdotes to share on how Dr. Monching really lived a full and meaningful life.
He never retired from the academe, or from his clinical practice. He continued to give lectures to medical students and residents- and fellows-in-training at the Philippine General Hospital for several years in a wheelchair.
He still saw patients in his clinic. Even in his confinement, some patients would come to visit him, and at the same time consult him on their heart problems.
He was in and out of the hospital for seven months. Yet, he maintained his scholarly column in H&L (Health and Lifestyle) magazine.
Even when he was short of breath and had a nasal prong for his supplemental oxygen, he still dictated his last column painstakingly to his private nurse, and had it e-mailed to me.
I have saved all his e-mails to me, and I read them from time to time. I feel enriched and blessed with all the ideas and insights he has generously shared, and though occasionally we took different sides on some issues and controversies, he had always shown respect for the positions I took.
“Some issues are multifaceted,” he once told me. “There are always at least two sides to it, and you see it depending on which side you’re looking at it.”
To the end, he remained mentally sharp. He was always the first to ask questions or give comments during scientific conferences. He was up-to-date with the research data he cited, meaning he was still reading medical journals. I paled in comparison to him, in terms of the number of medical journals he read regularly.
I guess that was his secret. He maintained his enthusiasm for learning new things, and sharing whatever he learned. That gave him the energy to keep going, though his body was becoming frail. He remained a wellspring of innovative ideas, and just like any spring fountainhead, he never dried up as a source of even brighter ideas.
When I turned 55, I told my wife and daughters that I would retire at the age of 60. I told some patients about the plan ahead of time so I could refer them to younger colleagues who could continue to take care of them. My wife and daughters advised me against it. Knowing my workaholic nature, they said I’d be back working in no time at all. Ninong Monching also discouraged me.
In hindsight, they were all right. I still enjoy seeing the patients I’ve had since I started my private practice more than 30 years ago. They have also become family to me. I would have felt bad and depressed, feeling that I abandoned them, had I retired.
Cutting down on workload is a better option than retiring totally.
Although I feel physically exhausted after a busy clinic day, I feel a different “high” when I recall the small talk and banter I have had with my patients. It’s no longer a simple doctor-patient connection. It has become a mutually nourishing relationship.
Last week, I attended a council conference of an international organization based in the United Kingdom. Professor Alberto Zanchetti, a world-famous cardiovascular specialist who, I was told, is already 92 years old, was also present, as a member of the council. He gave his usual excellent presentation. I was in awe as I listened to him.
During the discussion, I took the chance to thank him for the encouraging e-mail he sent me when I was newly appointed to the council. He gave me advice on how I could do my job more effectively. For a while, as I listened to him, I thought I was again seeing Ninong Monching. They were similar in several ways—scholarly sharp, perceptive, insightful and generous in sharing their ideas.
It’s true when they say that the more you share, whatever it is you share, the more of it you get back.
This can be a concept or hypothesis worth pursuing in preventing dementia in old age. Keep learning new ideas and skills, and sharing them, so your brain gets revitalized and does not deteriorate.
Maintaining one’s passion, strong relationships, generously sharing—a simple formula, indeed, for aging gracefully.