Dr. Michael Wang's Story
While growing up, I spent a few afternoons helping my aunt, who took care of my grandfather when he got too sick to leave the house. He couldn’t see very well, and he didn’t speak much. But he had a clock that would say the time when you pushed a button, and he’d push that button again and again – like he was just counting hours.
At around that time, my church youth group went to a nursing home to sing Christmas songs, and there were many lonely seniors there who said to me “Please come back.” I told one woman I would, so I did, for like a year until her family was able to visit her more. It was hard to go there, but she was super nice, and it was heartening to know I was helping her feel less lonely.
Both experiences helped me see that a lot of older people were living very different lives from others in our society and that not a lot of people really saw that. And that older people needed more care than they were getting from our healthcare system.
Fast-forward to med school and residency training when I did rotations with some wonderful geriatricians, and I wanted to learn more and more. I then realized that geriatric medicine was an almost perfect pathway to helping address those things that I’d realized years earlier about that population.
I went on to complete extra training in geriatrics and then spent 20 years working in some great hospitals. As a geriatrician working as a hospitalist, I dedicated a lot of my extra time to caring for and figuring out ways to improve hospital care for older patients. While that was satisfying, it eventually left me wanting for more.
In the hospital, you only have a brief relationship with patients. Often when I sent them home, I sensed there were more problems coming, and I wished I could somehow keep on supporting them.
Even early on in my career, I believed that primary care was where you could have the biggest impact on a patient’s life because you’re with them for the long haul. But the reality is that in our society right now, both primary care and geriatric medicine are undervalued. We’re just not there yet as a culture.
This is why I was so eager to help start Welcome Health. We’re one of the rare primary care practices that only treats seniors – and because we can go to people’s homes, we can often offer even better care than they might otherwise receive.
To explain why, I’ll share the story of a patient I’ll call Mariana Ramirez. (I’ve changed her name and some details to protect her privacy.)
Ms. Ramirez is a 90-year-old woman living alone in a small apartment behind her family’s house. I met her for the first time early this year. In that first visit she greeted me at the door. She looked quite strong for her age. She speaks no English so we used both my Spanish and interpreter services to talk, but even with that, strength and intelligence came right through.
It was clear she wanted to stay independent and spread the word about her religious faith. That was her true passion. Thinking back on my reflections about seniors earlier in my life, she very much didn’t want to become one of those unseen members of society.
The problem was, she had kidney disease, hypertension, and arthritis, and she’d fallen not a few weeks before, which, for seniors, can be really serious and can lead to being homebound and isolated. Luckily she’d not been badly hurt.
During my visit, I looked through all her medications, which was great because I found a bunch of non-traditional things, including supplements that were actually hurting her kidneys and increasing her fall risk. Meanwhile, I looked around and found loose wires at the doorway, and a floor mat that could slide if you stepped on it a certain way.
I discussed with her family support and by the time I visited a month later they were all fixed, and Ms. Ramirez’s medications were in a much better place. And most importantly for her, she felt more confident on her feet and ready to do work that gave her life meaning.
Which is an almost perfect coincidence, because that’s exactly the kind of thing that gives meaning to my professional life.
Ms. Ramirez is going to continue to be seen and heard by others, and I’m going to continue to support her, and our many other patients, for as long as they’ll have me – which I hope is many years into the future.
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