“Don’t wish your life away,” my grandmother always admonished us kids whenever we couldn't wait for the arrival of Christmas or for summer vacation or — soon after the Fourth of July — for summer vacation to hurry up and get over with and the first day of school to finally arrive. “Be careful, or you’ll wish your life away,” she’d say, and we’d look at each other and roll our eyes. Time moved slowly then. Boredom was easily come by. We couldn’t wait to turn 10 and then 14 and then 16. All the good things in life seemed frustratingly elusive, all those excellent adventures, the freedom, the realization of dreams we couldn’t even articulate but knew would someday without a doubt, for sure come true. And, as it turned out, were mostly that: dreams.
I can’t say precisely when time began to pick up speed. It happens stealthily. Somebody puts a foot on the gas, gingerly and then less gingerly, and before you realize it, a decade hurtles by and then another and another. People enter. People exit. Events take place, memorable or mundane. Milestones, thrilling or heart-rending, personal and communal, stitch themselves into the fabric of who we are, what we become.
Whether we aspire to or not, we are for a time, part of the larger world and the history of it. We are of an era that, in due time, will give way to another era, and another after that. A continuum.
Health care is a continuum, too. For most of us fortunate denizens of the developed world, it starts before birth — often before conception — and continues until the moment we close our eyes that final time. Increasingly, as health care providers grow more sophisticated at seeing the whole picture and working together, the continuum involves a true integrated system of wellness and fitness, of preventive care and acute care, of post-acute care and end-of-life care. It involves new ways of promoting health and avoiding illness and, when illness can no longer be avoided, of treating it with amazing new medicines, technologies and techniques and, as always, with abiding compassion.
Not for everyone, of course. It is a tragic failing of America that not all Americans have access to all the care they need. But as I prepare to retire in a few weeks after 21 years as an editor at the American Hospital Association, I have immense confidence that the people we listen to, write about, salute and, I hope, occasionally inspire will continue to advocate and innovate on behalf of our health care field and for all the people it serves — indeed, all people.
In looking back over my career, I now understand what my grandmother was telling us those many years ago in her gentle, grandmotherly manner: Life is short. Don’t wish it away. Acknowledge every twist and turn, every up and every down, every moment.
There’s not a moment in our lives that doesn’t matter, if we make it so. •