Father Gerry Beirne, pastor emeritus of St. Phillip Church, Greenville, once remarked that when he was an active priest he visited the sick; now that he is a retired priest he visits doctors. I can confirm Father Beirne’s observation.
First of all, there is my general practitioner, Scott Wilson, M.D. Dr. Wilson and his wife were participants at a marriage instruction course at St. Leo the Great parish in Pawtucket (of happy memory) who informed me at that time that he operated out of Landmark Hospital in Woonsocket. So when I retired and returned to my native city, I enrolled myself as once of his patients. Then, of course, for a male in his late seventies, a urologist is an absolute necessity.
For a number of years my classmate from LaSalle, Dr. Harry Iannotti, filled this role, but then again, after retiring to Woonsocket, I now employ the services of Dr. Joseph Cambio, whose office is quite near home. When I first required a urologist due to a kidney stone, a cousin of mine sent me a post card picturing the staff at a urology clinic muffling their laughter as a nurse spoke over the phone saying, “Urology department – please hold!”
Then certainly there is the heart specialist, Dr. John Cava, who caters to some mild high blood pressure. Three pills a day keep that in check. Dr. Cava once offered me the sage advice that activity is not exercise. I certainly keep active (as all retired priests do nowadays) but I rarely engage in systematic exercise. Perhaps a word to the wise or not so wise will someday prove sufficient.
Dr. Terry Alexandrou is my eye doctor who two years ago restored my ageing sight to perfect 20/20 vision through cataract surgery. The results are astounding! Dr. Alexandrou once remarked that he cannot understand how anyone who works on the eye might not believe in God. The organ is so intricate, precise and functional that it could never be the result of mere chance.
My hearing has been dysfunctional for some time. Although still I insist that my friends all mumble, Dr. Elizabeth Finch on the Lincoln/Pawtucket line has updated (quite reasonably) my hearing aids which were gratefully provided by diocesan insurance 10 years ago. Now once again I can hear the creaks in my home staircase and comprehend the first and second readings at Sunday Mass. Like most people of Celtic ancestry, I have twice visited a skin clinic to have a small blemish removed from my face. Dr. Antonio Cruz puckishly remarked, “Irish people put my kids through college.” And then, of course, there is my fine dentist, Dr. Robert Varone, across the road from St. Francis Church in Warwick, another LaSalle graduate, whose extensions of “professional courtesy” are always appreciated.
Other than dealing with a few non-painful kidney stones, I have been blessed over the years with a minimum of health issues. But, as an only child with one dear cousin in this city, I am keenly aware of the dependency that senior citizens experience in their older years. The few times that a medical treatment has required that I not spend the night alone, Fr. Thomas Ferland and the staff at St. Ambrose/St. James in Lincoln have been most solicitous. After an overly aggressive schedule of ash and Communion distribution on Ash Wednesday, one parishioner, Dr. Fernando Llamas, even made an appointment for me at a physical therapy clinic. But the elderly, dependent on TransVans and bus rides, the incapacitated, needing walkers and wheel chairs and the ageing, who visit pharmacies and urgent care clinics more than they get to church, evoke more of my sympathy every day.
The two-job, two-spouse-working family limits the best-intentioned offspring from offering maximum care to elderly loved ones. And certainly the maiden daughter who stayed at home to take care of mom and dad is rare in today’s society.
Older grandchildren can offer some comfort but, then again, the most responsible ones are no doubt aggressively pursuing their own futures. Able senior citizens often and happily do look out for and provide for their contemporaries. The ride to the doctor, the ride to church, the ride to the market, the ride to the senior meal site can be great and welcomed acts of charity.
The telephone call, the greeting card and the hospital or nursing home visit can again be very comforting and supportive gestures of goodwill. For Catholics, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion can greatly expand the sacramental reach of the Church to the elderly and handicapped especially as priests are doubled up with dual-parish care.
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples,” the solemn new commandment from Jesus Christ instructs, “if you have love for one another.” Sometimes this commandment is fulfilled by a neighborly gesture as well as by heroic deeds.