I met Dr. Ritter when I was 21 years old right out of college, working on getting into nursing school.
I finished my first degree and was unsure exactly what the next step was. I knew I wanted to be a nurse, but I did not exactly know what that meant. While I was working on getting into nursing school I got a job as an in-home caregiver.
Mrs. Ritter was my first “patient”. I remember being introduced to Dr. and Mrs. Ritter and thinking how amazing Dr. Ritter was, being almost 90 at the time, able to do pretty much anything he wanted physically, and able to communicate on any level. You would have thought he was in his 70s, and doing well.
He was smart and wise, kind and realistic. Over the years taking care of Mrs. Ritter, Dr. Ritter taught me so many fundamental nursing skills like how to transfer a patient or change a bed. He taught me what was going on with Mrs. Ritter medically as her health was declining and we talked a lot about the progression of dementia since I had gone through it with my grandpa. Mrs. Ritter napped a lot while I was working, so it gave me a lot of time to talk to Dr. Ritter about nursing school, my future plans, and life in general. Once she passed away I was sad that our talks would end and I was so thankful for the wisdom I felt I had gained from him over those few years I spend with them.
But I decided I wasn’t ready to let the relationship go. I felt like I still had a lot to learn from him and I really cherished our talks. I decided after Mrs. Ritter passed away that I would try to keep in touch with him.
And I did.
He was one of those people that never gave you the answer to a problem. He asked you questions until YOU reached the answer.
A week before I was going to be starting nursing school one of the patients I took care of in home was dying and at that point I had never experienced that. I did not handle it well. Some very unexpected things happened to me in the short time I was with that individual. When I left the house I had this overwhelming desire to talk to Dr. Ritter about my experience. I was going to be starting nursing school in one week and I suddenly didn’t know if this was supposed to be my life course.
I’ll never forget our talk that day as I was on the verge of tears sitting in his kitchen. He asked me, “Who determined who lives and dies?”
I said “well, God, but what happens if I make a mistake?”
He told me that many health care professionals get very cocky or very discouraged when they start to believe they are the determinant of life and death. And then he asked me again, “who determines who lives and who dies?”
There was a lot more conversation that day, and he spoke much more eloquently than I can write, but that simple talk with him that day really helped me in my development as a nurse.
He told me I could do anything I wanted with my life as long as it was honest and I enjoyed it.
If I made dinner, he never let anyone eat until I was sitting down.
Once I became a nurse I would come to him with questions when I would experience things as a nurse that they didn’t teach you about in text books.
I was always so excited to tell him about new things that were happening in my life. He was a great listener. Whenever I would ask him about his life and he would say “Oh I’m fine, just fine”, and ask me more about what was happening in my life.
I tried really hard to teach him facebook, but unfortunately I was never very successful.
He would ask me about new developments and the hospital and in the ICU and would love it when I would tell him what I was learning and what new technologies they were coming out with.
I never told him when I was dating anyone, but as soon as Tony and I were engaged I couldn’t wait to introduce them. I knew he would be proud of my decisions. And I’m so happy he was able to make it to my wedding.
I presume he had an effect on many people. I know I was not the only person’s life he had an impact on. But he was important to me. I believe I am a different person and I look at the world differently because of his friendship and mentoring.
I heard of his passing last Saturday and although he just reached his 96th birthday, it came as a shock to me. I am broken hearted I will not be able to make the funeral. It’s an interesting phenomenon because we did not really know anyone mutually, so I feel as though I am sad alone, as if our relationship didn’t exist.
In 6 years we never took a picture. It wasn’t our focus, our focus was talking and learning. I found this picture when I was digging through wedding photos and am really thankful for it.
I am so thankful I got to know Dr. Ritter.