Photo: Dr. Baxter (with blue bike and St. Luke’s shirt) with colleagues and hospice staff.
When Ric Baxter, MD, pedaled away from St. Luke’s University Hospital Network’s (SLUHN) Hospice House in Saucon Valley on Sept. 2, beginning his trans-Pennsylvania bike trip. Throughout this trip, Dr. Baxter carries an urgent message that he will share with people he meets along the way: Don’t Wait.
Don’t wait to enjoy those things you’ve been putting off: the vacation, the new home, the relationship. Do them soon, or you might never achieve them. Don’t wait to spend time with people who are important to you. Our time is limited, so delaying might mean putting this off forever. Don’t wait to seek medical care, which can keep you healthy, make you stronger or bring you comfort if you’re facing a complex or terminal illness.
Dr. Baxter has wanted to make this solo trip for a year or so. He is 67 years old and has a passion for riding his bike to stay active. Knowing it’s likely now or never that he’ll be able to take this 800-mile journey, he is not waiting!
The SLUHN Hospice and Palliative Medicine specialist and Emmaus resident, aims to use the month during his two-wheeled tour to share this carpe diem message with his audiences along the trip. To people who are facing complex illnesses or their final days, Dr. Baxter advises them to request Palliative or Hospice Care, which has been shown to both prolong life and make the final days more valuable.
When his own father was gravely ill, Dr. Baxter took him into his home and provided him hospice care during the last several weeks of his life. This gave their family time to spend enriching periods together, making the elder Baxter’s final days more comfortable to be with his family.
Dr. Baxter is heeding his own advice, taking four weeks off from his work with St. Luke’s to make this journey, something he hasn’t done during his 40-year medical career. As he gets a glimpse of what retirement might bring in two years, he’ll also use the hours on his saddle to remember family members and patients whom he’s had the privilege to treat during their final days.
Over the course of four weeks, Dr. Baxter will visit hospice facilities, family, friends and public institutions, many in out-of-the-way places. He’ll ride some 50 miles each day over five-six hours, taking his two-wheeler through bucolic fields, over challenging hills and into busy and sleepy towns. He will celebrate his 68th birthday on Sept. 7 in Ellisburg, Potter County, where his wife Martha will meet him.
His itinerary will include stops in Monroe County at the SLUHN hospital in Stroudsburg. From there, his bike and his brute strength will take him westward. During the final two-day stretch of the trip, Dr. Baxter will visit Harrisburg, Lancaster, Valley Forge, Philadelphia and Quakertown, before finishing where he began.
When he returns to the Hospice House at the end of his month-long sojourn, Dr. Baxter hopes he’ll be refreshed psychologically and spiritually, if not physically. It’s quite likely the experience will have a lasting effect on him. Like the preceding 40 years in a profession that has taught him, among other lessons, the urgency of meeting his own needs as he meets those of his patients.
About St. Luke’s
Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 15,000 employees providing services at 10 hospitals and 300 outpatient sites.