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Today’s post will conclude a three part series that has centered on lessons I learned from my patients during the early years of my career as a speech pathologist. The first story recalled my centurion cowboy teaching me a new awareness of how to view the elderly and their capacity to still learn and be vibrant regardless the number of years on their medical chart. Next, I introduced you to the Caldwells and how true love can and does exist even after a partner dies. Today, I will introduce you to Saul, a delightful man with a wicked sense of humor and a great way of looking at the opportunities in life.

I was a graduate intern at a local small speech therapy practice in 1992-1993. My education during this internship was to gather experience in several healthcare settings providing speech rehabilitation services. I met Saul while shadowing my mentor. He was to be my first ever experience with a home health patient. That was over 22 years ago and his unique personality has stuck in my memory.

Saul had been referred to the practice by his home health agency since he had recently had a mild stroke. I noted that Saul’s age on his chart was in his late 80s. I pictured a very old stooped over man maybe unable to walk well even before his stroke. I was wondering what “mild stroke” would mean for his speech. My preconceived viewpoint was about to be shattered in many ways.

Saul was indeed well into his 80s. He truly must have had a mild stroke because it was no problem for him to come answer the door of his trailer home. I recall his house being full of old antique furniture and a beautiful upright piano against one wall. That piano was to become a nice therapy tool for us to use during his sessions. Saul had very mild speech and voice deficits. I really wouldn’t have been able to tell there was any thing going on with him but Saul insisted that he was having delays in his speaking and that his “voice sounded off”. It was very mild word finding and prosody deficites. I truly had zero formal structured types of treatment to use with him during our sessions. My mentor suggested that we use regular conversational topics building up in length to work on these areas.

Stumped, Saul suggested to me that he had several jokes he liked to tell people. He could pinpoint what felt different telling them now vs. before the stroke. I said, “why not.” I still remember several of those jokes today. They seemed to have been from the Vaudeville era. Maybe I’ll tell you one at the end if you promise not to get upset at what may now be considered politically incorrect. So therapy did indeed center around getting Saul to speak and use his voice and vocabulary as much as possible. When he ran out of jokes, he would sing at the piano. He would also share stories about his life. Storytelling with phrasing and pausing for effect is actually a great exercise to use in speech therapy. He was a natural storyteller.

Saul had had some kind of a life. He had seen and lived through a whole heck of a lot. It is what laid the foundation for his view of and approach to life. He had lived in the New York City area for a large chunk before moving to Florida to retire. He used to joke that he obviously wasn’t good at reading maps because he ended up in the Tampa Bay Area, not Miami like “all good Jews are supposed to.” But then Saul had a streak of not doing what was expected of him. Two of his unorthodox choices in his later years are what have stayed with me, especially as I continue to age myself.

Saul was a ladies man! I don’t know if that was the case when he was younger but it was for him now. He had met his current, Lady Friend, when he was just entering his 80s. He admitted to picking her up in the local mall while she waited in line at the Food Court. He had zeroed in on her seeing that she was a “looker” and young too, say 65. Saul went right up to her, introduced himself, and told her not to eat the crap she was about to order. Instead she should meet him down the road at Lola’s Diner for some real food. Much to my amazement, Saul said it worked like a charm. She met him for lunch and they’d been together ever since. I teased him that he had “robbed the cradle”. He had me in stitches explaining to me that just because he was older didn’t mean his eye for a quality lady had glaucoma too. He also asked me to take a look at all the 90 year old ladies around him. Did I think any could keep up with him never mind be lookers? Hate to say it but just keeping up with him would have put many younger ladies out of the race. Speaking of racing…

It turns out Saul was a marathoner. He had taken up running in his 60s because he had retired and he was “bored”. He also used it as a way to pick up the ladies after his wife been gone for awhile (shocker, huh). I couldn’t believe “someone SO old” would, never mind could, just start running. Yet Saul took to it like a fish to water, he would add. He competed in marathons up until he was 83. When asked why he stopped, Saul revealed that he had had an earlier mild stroke. The doctor had told him to stop running. Saul missed running. He missed the feeling of strength and control over his body, even for being “an old goat”!

The main point I carry with me all these years from these two stories is that Saul didn’t allow conventional thought and the idea of his own or societies “can’t” to get in his way. He wanted to still find love and affection as an old man. To heck with “robbing the cradle” or believing he was too old to find love, he went out and used a very gutsy pick-up line and landed himself a “looker”. I’d like to see younger men come up with an approach as good as his! People would think he was crazy for deciding to start running, let alone marathons, in his 60s. But he did anyway for almost 20 years. That’s a darn good streak!

“Can’t” was unwelcome in Saul’s vocabulary. It has been one of the best examples ever given to me, especially as I’ve gotten older and had to battle or overcome some of my own life challenges. When I thought about returning to graduate school in my 40s, completely selling off my house and quitting my job to move – I fought against a mountain of “can’ts”. When I took up running to help control some nasty health symptoms, I didn’t let knee problems stop me. I adapted and I ignored the “can’t”. I feel better and stronger for it. I’m fighting all the negativity right now that comes with being laid off and unemployed. Yet I know I can find a job that doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists and allows me to sleep with a good conscience at night. I have finally followed my dream to start the Sofia- Wisdom of the Ages project despite the interesting looks I get from some people at times. Every time I want to cower and give in to the “can’t” I now know I can. The path of “can do” has been partially paved by a little old man I once met long ago named Saul.

You see Saul couldn’t give in to the “can’t”. He wouldn’t allow it because he was living not only for himself but those no longer with him. Saul had survived Hitler and his camps.

So, Saul would be upset if I didn’t retell one of his jokes he taught me. Hmm, let me tell you this one since it’s pretty tame. There was this woman who wanted her portrait painted by a very famous painter in New York. She met with the man for her first sitting. She was dressed to the hilt but not one piece of jewlery. The artist thought it odd when the lady instructed him to paint in a necklace with a HUGE diamond on it. “Like a the size of a hubcap, huge”, she told him. The artist shrugged and agreed. Next session the lady had an additional request that he add big saucer sized diamond earrings. He decided to say nothing and just do what she asked so he could get paid. It was her last sitting after all. Well, several days later he got a call from the pesky lady. This time she requested that he add an enormous ruby ring onto one of her fingers. It had to be extremely large and radiate high class. Finally frustrated and absolutely curious by this time, the artist asked why the woman was making all these addition of jewels that she didn’t have. And this was her reply:

“Because when I die and he goes to marry again right away, I want that chippy to wonder where the Hell all those jewel are and why the cheap bastard hasn’t given them to her!” I wish Saul was here to tell you. He always did the voices better than me.

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