Tuesday, February 18, 2014

About Me

It wasn’t until I recognized that a "blog" could be what I’d always known as a personal essay, that I finally embraced the idea of "blogging." It is a form I enjoy, and I like the discipline of producing something on a regular schedule (more or less). I try to have something new on my page every week, usually on Sunday, but sometimes a bit later (like this week). It is both a challenge and a problem.

The challenge is to find something to write about. The difficulty is writing about something that is personal, but not just about "me." An essay, by its very nature, is an opinion or observation that explains or defines or illustrates something greater than self, but from a personal perspective.

Every life is personal to the one living it. The writer must sharpen the subject to a point that has some universal appeal, some point that can be felt by the readers who can then discover something about themselves, or understand another’s point of view, and perhaps learn to accept or at least not reject something different.

This week I wanted to write about a man I knew, a doctor, who represented something nearly erased from our culture. It was about the kind of man who labored under the title of "Old Country Doctor." The man I wanted to write about had recently passed away, and though he had been retired for some years, had many former patients to mourn his passing. The problem I had was that in order to make the story believable, I found myself offering a lot about me, and how I knew him, what our relationship had been, and why I felt I was qualified to examine his professional life, relate it to his personal philosophy, and connect it to what I see as a diminishing skill in the world of medicine.

I wanted, above all, to pay tribute to the men and women who, like this man, represent a coterie of professionals who didn’t "deliver health care," but instead, "practiced medicine." They were (and a few still are) physicians who learned that while science and technology could assist in diagnosing and treating the ills that are part of living, they needed to develop and refine and constantly use a very special set of skills if they were to help sick people get well, and well people stay healthy. They learned first and foremost, that to help another they had to listen, to look, to touch, to smell, to combine all of those sensations into a picture of a patient, and make judgements about how to go about helping, curing, and where that wasn’t possible, giving the patient the tools to live with or cope with dying of whatever the ailment was.

The old country doctor is a well known character in literature, in theater and films. He’s generally crusty, a bit over-bearing, but underneath it all, a compassionate and caring human being. It’s an apt portrait. In rural America, especially, where hospitals and specialists have always been in short supply, that character developed as an image of the over-worked, under-rewarded, loving but self protective person whose humanity often had to be subordinated in order to be able to fall into bed as the sun was rising, only to be called out to do it all over again, often miles from any other help. It took a special kind of person to follow that way of life, and there had to be some way of pulling a carapace over oneself to survive.

The man I wanted to write about was that kind of person, and I was privileged to know him. As I said, I felt that I had to establish my own credentials in order to write about him. I realize now that isn’t necessary. If you are old enough to have known such a doctor, in the country or in the city, you will know what I mean. There is only one more thing to add.

Thank you, Doc.

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