Henry Ford said, ‘You are old when you stop learning; for that reason there are young 80-year-olds and old 20-year olds’. Lifelong learning is one of the themes of my just published book All Experience is an Arch. The title comes from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses and conveys an image of looking through an archway to a land of distant promise, but if we reach that land we find there is always more to discover.
In the book I look back on a rewarding professional life as a doctor both teaching medical and health sciences students and caring for older people. It is said older people are the best teachers about ageing and I have always found the bedside tutorial with a patient to be my favourite mode of teaching. Patients and students alike seem to enjoy the experience. I have therefore included a number of case vignettes and studies to discuss some of the key topics of older persons health.
Another theme of the book is the place of literature in medicine. Over the years there has been an expanding interest in the relationship between literature and medicine. This is not surprising as both are concerned with the major issues in human life; joy and sadness, birth partnership and death, hope and despair, to name a few. Poems and novels give us a deeper understanding about healthy, positive ageing, illness and bereavement. The collected series of essays, papers and case studies try to illustrate these issues, hopefully this has been done in an informative and, at times humorous, way. I included a section on the non-medical books I think our students should read. All too often the demands of medical study, long duty hours and the demands of advanced training mean medical students and junior doctors tend to stick solely to medical texts and journals. Non-medical reading helps the doctor to ‘play a broader game’.
I have included a section on the value of a patient’s narrative or life story so we view the ‘whole person’ and not just ‘the gall-bladder in bed 28’. General Practitioners have the advantage here as they get to know their patients over many years and often share major life events with them. This is not so easy in the hurly-burly of an emergency department or an acute hospital ward.
Multi-disciplinary teamwork is a central part of older person’s health, as is home visiting. Sections look at these issues and the importance of effective communication. I have looked at the fortunate series of events which led me into a career in older persons health and some of the superb role models and teachers who influenced my training.
Above all I would like the book to be seen as a tribute to the many patients that I have had the privilege of meeting and the fine health care team members with whom I have had the pleasure of working.
All Experience is an Arch by Dick Sainsbury, Quentin Wilson Publishing, RRP $37.50