Theory and Practice


It happened four and a half months ago, but I just discovered the story and found it fascinating on several levels. For one, it resonates and underscores the importance of integrating theory into practice. Secondly it highlights that regardless of one’s age, the possibility exists to draw strength from long kept knowledge and make it work for the wellbeing of another.


It was a dinner party of sorts. The setting was Deupree House, a senior living community, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. I surmise that the setting is fairly picturesque and very comfortable. After all, the Hyde Park neighborhood was established in 1892 by prominent businessmen intent on duplicating New York City’s fashionable Hyde Park area. At the time of its establishment, it was exclusively limited to the very wealthy. Something tells me that absolutely nothing has changed concerning the need to be financially on the upper end of the spectrum since that time until now. After all, when it comes to real estate, the tag line is “location, location, location”. Hyde Park was annexed by the city of Cincinnati in 1903. As recent at 2010, Forbes named Hyde Park one of “America’s Best Neighborhoods”.


Reportedly, the residents of Deupree House have individual apartments, but enjoy the luxury of dining together in an upscale dining area if they desire. Back in May 2016, Patty Ris, an 87-year-old woman who was very new to the senior living community, was sitting at a table with friends when she started choking on some of the food she was eating. From across the room, seeing that Ms. Ris was having trouble, one of the staff members quickly moved in her direction. Before she could get there, another resident of Deupree House who was 96- years old reached her first.


Reportedly, the staff person started to tell the resident to step aside. Truthfully, what would you do? Most of us would probably be quick to say, “Please step out of the way.” After all, at the age of 96, does a person really possess the skill set and knowledge base to know what to do in a medical emergency? However, when the staff person recognized the resident offering assistance, she opted to observe rather than interfere. The man who’d come to the rescue was none other than Dr. Henry Heimlich.


Dr. Heimlich had invented the technique in 1974 and had demonstrated it many times, yet in his 96 years, this was the first time in his life he’d ever used it in an emergency to save the life of another.


Ms. Ris later said, “I believe God put Dr. Heimlich next to me so he could save my life”. Can you imagine the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that Dr. Heimlich experienced? One reporter captured it like this: ‘“It was very gratifying,’ Heimlich told the Guardian on Friday by telephone from Cincinnati.

‘That moment was very important to me. I knew about all the lives my manoeuvre has saved over the years and I have demonstrated it so many times but here, for the first time, was someone sitting right next to me who was about to die’.”


Just for the record, theory and practice can be worlds apart. In Patty Ris’ case, Dr. Heimlich knew exactly what to do and he didn’t hesitate. He integrated theory with practice. However, prior to 1974, when Dr. Heimlich first perfected the manoeuvre that was named after him, it defied the widely held theory of his day. Prior to that time, it was thought that a thump on the back was the best way to dislodge food. Dr. Heimlich argued that doing so could force the obstruction further into the gullet instead of serving to dislodge it.


Approximately 4,800 people die annually in the United States from choking from various causes. According to the US National Safety Council, around 3,000 of those deaths are thought to be choking from food.


So what can we learn about the importance of integrating theory into practice and the possibility that as long as we draw breath we are not done? I know a number of older people who’ve mostly given up on life and seemingly are treading water waiting to die. I know others in that same peer group that are active, resilient and inspirational. What separates the two groups, one from another?


I think it is mostly attitude, health and one’s view of life from God’s perspective. I have a relatively new friend who is in his late 80s. Following the death of his wife, he left everything familiar to start over in a new locality hundreds of miles away from his home. Upbeat, positive and dependent on God’s faithfulness to provide him purpose and opportunity defines his daily approach to embracing the day. His resilient spirit is a source of encouragement to others.


I guess in the end, it all relates back to theory and practice. If the foundation of our theory is sound, it always gets integrated into practice. Otherwise, it was simply window dressing and mostly served as a facade. Whenever we allow self-interest to take precedence over love of God and support for the wellbeing of others, something caustic takes place that leaves a sense of emptiness rather than fulfillment. It gets back to the biblical principal: “For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it”.


All My Best!




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