Currently wrapping up travel assignment #5 in Naples! Florida was never on my “must-do” list until my Grandma and I realized it would be a possibility for me to get a job near enough to spend a winter with her down here. An assignment came through just over an hour from her and I headed south to be one with the snowbirds.
Naples is the farthest city south on the Gulf Coast “The Paradise Coast” as it is very accurately named. It’s a very affluent area, perfectly manicured, full of golf villas and unbelievable beach homes. They say in Florida the farther south you go, the less southern you get. I’ve only met 5 people since I’ve been here that actually grew up in Florida; it’s full of transplants (from the cold north) and the population nearly doubles in the winter. Most are retirement age and split the year, many eventually settle here year round.
The beaches are incredibly beautiful. The sand is flour and the seashells are unique. Florida also has excellent clouds, (as one of my patients calls them, “Florida’s mountains.”) The gulf coast sunsets are a show every night. The beach is full of people watching the sun go down and applauding the last specks of orange light that disappear into the water. There’s something so comforting about sunsets: How every sunset everyone has ever enjoyed has always been the same sun. How another day ending can still be so beautiful. How we can watch something so final and still have the promise that it will begin again.
My patient caseload was 90% Medicare, which anyone in healthcare realizes comes with preset expectations. But what I found here was a very active, energetic community of retired people that move down here because there is so much for them to do here. Many of them live in villas and the best way to describe their lifestyles is that it is college all over again. They live close to all their friends, spent their time going to exercise classes or golfing or playing tennis or pickleball, going to happy hour, and socializing. I learned to stop saying “Happy Friday” because they rarely know what day it is since for them, every day is the weekend. It was very refreshing to see people in this stage of their lives, living their best lives.
I’ve always loved working with the older population because they have a lifetime worth of perspective. And a lot of them just keep me laughing. Like one patient that would say without fail every time you asked him how we was doing that day, “Well, I’m able to stand up and take nourishment.” And my patient with dementia that when I offered him water, looked at me with the most skeptical eyes and asked, “are you trying to get me drunk?” It’s certainly a population that comes with challenges but can also be the most rewarding to work with. We had a gym full of patients one day who were, quite literally, off their rockers and had us all laughing. My patient said to me then, that one of the things he regrets most about his working life is that he took everything too seriously. A lot of people learn too late in life, if ever given the chance, that life is not an endgame. I think sometimes the chase of the American dream distracts us from what we truly want and what we experience along the way. The sooner we realize that happiness, love, wealth, and fulfillment can surround us at every stage, the longer we have to enjoy what we have. The best lesson the snowbirds have taught me is that you have to get older, but you don’t have to get old.
My entire desire to go to Florida was to be able to spend time with my Grandmother, a snowbird herself that I don’t get to see as often now that I’m not in CT during the summer. I’m extremely lucky to still have a grandparent in my adult life to have both childhood and new memories with. I drove up to see her every weekend and we had lots of little adventures together and she continued to nurture my soul, as she has my entire life. We both treasure these memories and we both have gained so much by sharing our time with each other. I think so much of what brings value to our lives is what we share with other people. We have to ask ourselves what we expect to take out of the world and then what we expect to bring into it. We have a lifetime to live, to admire every sunset, to present our best selves to the world, and to take in the beauty that comes from that.