Interview with Susan Miller, age 65, fellow traveler to climb Kilimanjaro with Mary Lynn Patton in Africa
I'd like to post a segment of the interview of Susan Miller, age 65, fellow traveler to climb Kilimanjaro with me in Africa.
Hi Susan, you started a new business out of necessity when your father was ill and needed help filing his insurance claims. Now you have a business in full swing that brings care to elderly people in all areas of downsizing, relocating to an assisted facility, etc. You are serving those in the last years of their third act & their families. Can you tell us about your work?
My plan with Medical Claims Assistance (her business name) was to have it evolve to eventually providing complete care management for those clients who wanted that service. That is were we are today. I manage the medical, financial, social, and spiritual care of my frail elderly clients. If one needs to move from their home to assisted living we find a new home, oversee the move of their household goods and/ or arrange for an estate sale. We also work with a realtor to sell the home. I plan birthday parties, arrange for chaplains to visit, assure that my clients keep in touch with their friends, and send out their Christmas cards. I work with their physician to see that the best medical care is received and work with their attorney’s to have end-of-life decisions and arrangements in place. It’s like having lots of Grandmothers to watch over and I have been very emotionally rewarded over the years.
On this trip to Africa, you had your 65th birthday and took the honor of oldest trip participant to set out on the climb of Kilimanjaro. I was a close second with my 64th birthday the next week. What attracted me to do this interview is your determination in the face of illness and your positivity or optimism. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Mary Lynn, I think you are giving me more credit that I deserve. The fact that I kept going on the mountain is directly related to my stubbornness. I had been training for 14 months
for this trek and I didn’t want to quit. I am very disappointed that I was not able to summit as I was so looking forward to seeing what was on the top. You reached the summit, Mary Lynn, is it true that there is cold beer and ice cream at the top?
Oddly, I was so stunned & tired that I would have missed both the cold beer & ice cream... which would never be missed at normal altitudes. I wanted to ask you about dealing with aggravation. One of the greatest skills to cultivate is to avoid being sucked into other peoples' negative emotions. Since this is a very stressful journey up a very big mountain, trip participants become agitated and grouchy and short with each other. You always seemed to respond in a positive way to all of that, avoiding the temptation to be grouchy back. How do you manage to do that?
I was raised in a large family with many different personalities. On any one day someone could be having a bad day and if one let’s themselves be influenced by the bad vibes then every day is going to be a bad day. I try to live by the Golden Rule, i.e., “treat others as you want to be treated”. Corny as it sounds it works for me.
Coming on this trip by yourself was also very impressive. You and Andrea came to climb the mountain without any friend or partner traveling with either of you. Although I was thrilled Tanya was my buddy and do not think I had the courage to come alone, I could see some great benefits to doing that. Could you comment?
This is the first time I have every taken a trip like this by myself. Neither my husband nor any of my friends wanted to make the trip so I decided that if I really wanted to cross this off my bucket list then I’d better plan to go by myself. Traveling on one’s own allows one the freedom to interact freely with the other travelers in the group. Since we had all traveled to Tanzania for the same purpose we had something in common from the beginning.
One of the toughest times of the trip is when after 4 days of climbing and only 1/3rd left to go, you had to stay at the altitude you had reached to recover from illness. The balancing of your determination vs your illness was a mighty battle. Could you talk about that?
As I said earlier, I’m mighty disappointed I didn’t summit. It’s a regret I’ll have the rest of my life. I had an internal discussion with myself regarding the pros and cons of continuing. One of the main reasons I opted to not go any higher was the difficulty of rescue from a higher elevation (the rescue road ends at 15,200’). I had no desire to end up in a hospital in a foreign country and I was concerned that if I became too dehydrated that’s where I would land. I also have several people who depend on me so I didn’t want to make a decision just to satisfy my ego.
What is your major learning or gift from this experience?
I learned I’m tougher than I thought. Plus I have some new friends.