Archive for February 2008

Country Doc Quote for the Day

February 29, 2008

        Oliver Wendell Holmes on a great U.S. President-  “He has a second rate mind but a first rate temperament.”

       Somehow as a busy country doc in the middle of a flu epidemic, I take comfort in that.  If that man can get us through the Great Depression and a World War, surely I can treat my sick people with compassion today, even if I am tired.  (I’m afraid the quote also describes this country doc.  I wish I were brilliant but it ain’t true.)

        See ya in the morning.

Dr. B


Advice Five Cents/Professional Courtesy Day

February 28, 2008

        Today I’d like get some advice from you guys.  I know medicine, and you folks know writers, so I hope you might trade out some ideas professional courtesy.  As always, my advice on the Net is free (watch out- you get what you pay for) and reading my blog costs the same, so I hope this is helpful.

        Along the way, I’ve written up a few posts that might help moms with young boys, so this one is for the girls.  And it might help the Dads too.  I have a little girl.  She’s grown up now, but I still understand the depth of that bond, and the desire to be protective.

        Probably most of y’all have heard of the Gardasil vaccine.  For girls from 9 to 26, this is a vaccine one should look into.  Without going into all the technical details it protects against infection from the virus that is associated with the development of cervical cancer later in life.  (Google their website- it is very detailed.)

        Given this is essentially a sexually transmitted disease, I realize some folks have trouble talking to their children about it.  Here’s how I sold one teenaged patient of mine on the idea.

         “Hey kid, you oughta take this Gardasil shot routine.  It is one of the few things in life that can keep you from getting cancer.”  (I took an early practice test on the subject and missed a question ’cause it was one of the few times the word ALWAYS was associated with the correct answer.  I’m sure it is not 100% but the Board was trying to make a point.  This thing works.) 

        “How does it keep you from getting cancer, Dr. Bibey?”

        “Well, cancer of the cervix is a female cancer, and it can come from having sex with a guy who has a certain kind of virus.  The vaccine can stop the virus from getting ahold of you.”

        “Dr. Bibey!  I ain’t having sex.  I don’t need it.  Don’t ya trust me?”  She was embarrassed.

        “Oh sure, kid.  I trust you.  It’s the rest of the world I don’t trust.  Someday down the road if you’ve got a husband with a wandering eye who runs around, this shot could protect you from some of what he is doing.  I’d go beat him up, but by then I’ll be over in the nursing home and too old to do it.”

        She laughed.  “O.K. Dr. Bibey.  If you think I need it I’ll take it.”  I think the image of old Dr. B duking it out with some young buck was what won her over.  You can only protect your people with the skills you possess.  Truth is it would have to be some kinda weakling of a twenty-five year old boy for me to whup nowadays, and it wouldn’t help her anyway. 

        Her mom agreed to the series, and we started that day.

        So y’all talk to your Docs about Gardasil for your young ladies.  Tell ’em Dr. Bibey sent you.

        Oh, yeah, I said this was professional courtesy day.  If y’all know of weblogs of Southern writers or humorists you think I should read, I hope you will let me know.  I have no idea what I am doing in this writer business, and I need all the help I can get.    

        In bluegrass we only steal from the best.  Don’t worry- I ain’t gonna plagiarize; it goes against everything I believe in, but I am curious about how other folks write.  My specific genre is Modern Medical Grit Lit, but I’d like to hear about any Southern Lit blogs you enjoy.  (For that matter if they write like my Northern friends, that is good too.)  If by chance you know of any other physician bluegrass fiction writers, that would be extra good.  I have a special interest in that area. 

        My agent has managed to get a few articles placed for me, and I figure the leads might give me a few other places to look into publication.  The 15% take for my agent is a bit slim, and I need to keep growing to keep him in the fold.  He’s got a young’un in college, and he has no choice but to be somewhat business-like.  (I drive him crazy with my meandering ways.) 

        Come to think of it, I believe his young’un is a girl.  If she’s in college she’s less than twenty-six years old.  I believe I’ll call him and offer them a free Gardasil shot- professional courtesy you know.  Every little bit helps.

        See ya this weekend.

Dr. B 

The Writing Business

February 26, 2008

         Before I start today, I want to thank The Laurel of Asheville for hiring me to do some pieces on bluegrass music.  The editor, Mr. Paul Howey, is a fine fellow who decided to take a chance on an unknown, and I appreciate the opportunity.  

        Mr. Howey wrote an award winning book on Pet Therapy dogs.  His book came out of empathy for a stray dog he happened upon in the Arizona desert back when he when he was living there.  He sensed the dog was special and indeed his intuition proved well founded- Freckles became a star in the field of pets and healing. 

        I’m lucky I ran into Paul, as he is an empathetic man with a soft spot for stray dogs and old Docs.  He is a busy editor, but took the time to make the piece magazine worthy.  It was my first good paying writer gig, and I’m glad Mr. Paul Howey was the man to give me a chance.  As we say in bluegrass, he’s a good’un.     

        Today I wanted to share some of the business aspects of writing and agents.  I am a Doc and an artist, not a business guy, but I am a fast learner.  In the literary world you gotta have an agent.  They come by all the best gigs, and they know the business end of things.  (Someone has to take care of Dr. B.) 

        Take today.  My agent found me a gig writing for a University Press up north.  They have a book compilation project on rural medicine in progress and wanted one chapter from a country doc who played bluegrass music.  (Can you believe my luck?) 

        My man has all kinds of writers in his stable and he chose me for the project.  I wonder what made him think of ole Dr. B?  Maybe it was ’cause my six word memoir is “World’s first physician bluegrass fiction writer.”  

        He really wants to see me get this gig, ’cause he says it will be a springboard for even bigger publications.  It is hard for me to imagine anything much bigger though.  Old Dr. B has spent his entire adult life as a country doc and bluegrass picker and now is gonna be rubbing elbows with University scholars.  Too dang much.  I hope they want to have a pig picking and a bluegrass band when their book comes out; I know all the best ones.

        When I got my Bluegrass First Class gig, my agent negotiated all the details, and it was impressive.  I couldn’t believe I was going to get paid all that money for having so much fun.  

        Right from the get-go he had me ready for the role right down to the little hat with the press ticket tucked in the band.  We had the run of the entire place and backstage access to all the shows.  To tell you the truth, as Buck Owens would say, I was just acting naturally; only difference was now someone was paying me to do it.  I had a little notebook I carried in my back pocket, but I forgot to pull it out.  It didn’t matter.  Who could forget the events anyway?  

        The writing business is new to me, but I have been around bluegrass music all my life, and I can see some parallels.  Both of ’em have a fair amount of overhead.  (One bluegrasser told me you don’t know what overhead is till your diesel fuel bill is in the tens of thousands of dollars.)  I remember talking to one boy who signed on as the bass man for a mid level band, and they went all the way to California and back on tour.  They flew in airplanes and stayed at fancy hotels, smoked fine cigars, and had steak every night.  (They warn’t the ground up kind either, but them good Delmonicos and such as that.)

        When he got home and got to figuring, he had fifteen more dollars than he’d left home with.  He called his old boss and asked if he could get back his job at the hardware store.  (He still plays but now balances a day job with weekend music work.)

        This writing gig, like playing music, is also a tough way to make a living, though I don’t think my overhead is in the same league with the folks on the music tour.  We did have a lot of expenses though.  At the end of the weekend, me and my agent sat down and went over the line item financials.  We got our press passes for free, and of course I understood all the travel expenses.  I didn’t realize he had rung up quite such a bar tab, and room service each day does tend to accrue.  I wasn’t sure exactly why his mama needed a room, but then he told me her sitter had quit her, and she was scared of staying alone, so I let it go.  The Doc side of me empathized with his circumstances.  (I never was much of a businessman.)  As we say in bluegrass, it was a large time, and I’m ready to go at it again. 

       They say the best Docs know they ought to be out making an honest living but enjoy practicing medicine to much to quit.  Music has always been that way for me too, and now so is writing.  (My wife says I’m gonna get all the way to the end and never go to work for a living.)  To play a whole weekend, get paid, make expenses, and have seventeen bucks left over was a huge success.  Maybe that is why I like to write so much- it’s a lot like bluegrass music. 

        So I guess I’ll persevere on as long as y’all will put up with me.  I am having too much fun to quit.

        See you this weekend.  Let’s see.  Medicine, music, writing or golf?  Hm, I’ll have to see what transpires between now and then.  One thing about it, when you don’t go to work every day, a lot of material surfaces on a regular basis.

Dr. B

Bluegrass First Class

February 24, 2008

             BluegrassFirst Class. (BGFC)  It’s 5:30 am Saturday and the music has almost died down for the first day.  This is my first chance to sit and write.  Some guy by the fireplace waits with me for the coffee shop to open and renders a fine version of “Whisky Before Breakfast.” The event is less than twenty-four hours old and we’ve taken in a half dozen acts, and been in a bunch of jam sessions.           

        The pros Saturday ranged from straight bluegrass of Dry Branch Fire Squad to the 50’s country influenced lead singing of Ricky Wasson with J.D.Crowe.  The new fiddle man for J.D. ripped through “Wild Fiddler’s Rag,” a most difficult tune.  (My favorite rendition is my Pecan Grove cousin’s mandolin version.) 

         Some of the ladies complain Rhonda Vincent has too much sex appeal for bluegrass, but you gotta hand it to her.  In spite of the glamour of a road weary schedule, she works hard to put on an energetic show, and stays after to speak to every fan wanting to meet her.           

         A little nine-year old angel of the Snyder family and her “older” brother (twelve) on the guitar stole the Saturday show, though.  How such young children sing and play at such a professional level is beyond me.  When you ask how she does if she shrugs her shoulders and has the shy reply of “I just love to play.”  It’s the bluegrass way.           

         The backstage jam sessions are almost as good as the main acts.  I played several hours with Al Wood, a mainstay Piedmont banjo man out of Statesville.  (Al has been around long enough to recall listening to the Grand Ole Opry in the early days of rural N.C. radio.)  I’ve got a bunch of his old records, and he can still pick with the best of ‘em.  His boy, Woody, can flatpick play and sing any style, but my favorites were the hillbilly jazz tunes and old Stanley Brother numbers.  The late night sessions are an education, and not only in playing music.  The conversation ranged from Les Paul’s development of the amplifier and multi-track recorder to Mozart’s girl friend ragging him to get a day job.  Be not fooled.  These folks are country, but far from unsophisticated.           

         The best times are back in our room headquarters.  My entourage is my family.  Tommy Jr. is coming along on the mandolin, and there ain’t no harmony like the family kind.  Marie is just a young’un who has barely seen a quarter century here on earth, and yet speaks eloquently of access to medical care for the underprivileged and mission work.  Dang if Marfar and I didn’t raise them right, but I am not sure exactly what it was other than to hold ‘em close, take them everywhere we went, and go to the church house to pray for guidance.                 

         Saturday rocked.  As a mandolin player, you can’t help but be mesmerized by a guy like Jessie Brock.  Fluid right hand, no tension, great tone. 

            Balsam Range was a surprise to some new bluegrass fans, but all of us old hands were glad to see Grammy winner Marc Pruett organize such a fine band.  Fiddling Buddy Melton’s high tenor wowed the crowd.  Brother, if his lead vocal on “Blue Mountain” don’t make you want to grab your best girl and hold her tight, ole Dr. B would recommend marriage counseling.  Tim Surrett is a master emcee- someone forgot to tell him you had to quit having fun if you turned pro.            

         III Tyme Out never has a bad line-up, but the current configuration is as tight as I’ve heard in years.  Russell Moore has long been one of the best lead singers in bluegrass, and the band is at its best with the return of mandolinist Wayne Benson.  The guy is on a constant quest to express his artistry via the mandolin; the type who is still eager to explore new passages with his morning coffee.  He closed out the night set with a mandola medley that had the house stomping and clapping like an old time tent revival. 

         If by chance you aren’t into bluegrass, go see III Tyme Out and ask ‘em to get the bus driver to sing the bass part with the band on an old Platters number.  They can do it as well as a fine Ocean Boulevard beach band.            

         Sunday morning.  5:30 am.  The morning gospel sessions are still a few hours off.  I write and sing harmony with a fine mando man named Merl and a lady Cajun fiddler whose name escapes me.  They have played all night.  My thoughts turn to Doc Watson’s set.  Doc personifies the best in traditional music.  Humble, unpretentious, yet a genuine world class virtuoso, he is kind enough to let us sit in on his front porch jam session with Jack Lawrence and Tony Rice.  And he sings with such honesty and emotion.  Maybe my friend Wayne Benson said it best- “When Doc sings, I believe every word.”           

         Me too, Wayne.  Doc’s the best.           

         I appreciate y’all hearing all about this.  It was my first paying writer assignment.  (The preview article is in the Laurel of Asheville, February, 2008 issue.)  Come Wednesday I’m gonna tell you how I got the job.  Just like picking music, it almost seems wrong to get paid for having so much fun, but I ain’t gonna turn down the gigs when they come along.              

         Well, gotta trade in the mandolin for the stethoscope.  My soul is recharged, and I can go back to doctoring and take care of some sick folks till the next gig.  Neuse River has our first spring outing next weekend.  Will keep you posted. 

Dr. B

Why my Wife Likes for Me to Play Golf

February 22, 2008

        Spring is about here, ’cause Ms. Marfar bought me some new golf shirts and encouraged me to get back at it.

        Part of it is that she knows it is the last thing remotely athletic I can still do.  Basketball and baseball are long over and football never was, (too skinny) but with golf I can still pretend.

        After a long winter of being cooped up, I get restless and need to be a little boy if but for a few hours.  She’s good to not protest it.

        I am a dumb man, but I ain’t all dumb, though.  I established a house rule a long time ago.  Whatever I make in bluegrass music or gambling at golf I leave at her place at the dinner table.  We only bet fifteen bucks, so on the best day you’re talking $150.00 or so if you clean house.  (When I lose we don’t talk about that, but she can tell within twelve seconds of me walking in the door.  I’m not sullen, but I ain’t bragging either.)

       All this behavior goes back a long ways, and the house rules have never changed.  The money is hers, but with only one condition.  She can not spend it on household budget items or for that matter on anything sensible.  (After all, I came by it playing so it’s only fair.)  It must be spent on her and her only.  I call it Marfar’s mad money. 

        I can’t lose.  If I don’t win on the golf course, I ain’t worked up about it.  It is only a game, and I’ve had a day in the sun.  Like the great Cary Middlecoff said, “I don’t worry over four foot putts.  If I miss, my wife still loves me and we’re eating steak tonight.”  And when I win Marfar seems to want me to play even more.

        Now before you go worry ole Dr. B is gonna get in trouble for gambling, no fear.  The high Sheriff and police play in our group, and they say the dollar figures involved are not enough to warrant any legal consequences.  Besides, I’ve noticed their wives encourage them to get out and mix it up with the boys too.  I think they’ve all been talking.

        Like I say, I’m a dumb man, but I ain’t all dumb.  Wednesday our group lost the front and the overall, but the wind got up and we rallied to win back nine with a gritty one over par.  I came home and put the thirty bucks on the table.  It ain’t much, but every little bit helps.  I have no idea what she might save it for, and don’t want to know. It might wreck a lifetime of a good negotiations. 

       Hey, I have a big event coming up- my first big paying writer gig- coverage of a regional bluegrass event.  Will tell you all about it in my next post.

Dr. B

Up all Night

February 19, 2008

       Years ago I was up all night taking care of an elderly patient.  This was before we had full time cardiology consultation in town, much less hospitalists, so if you wanted it done, you did it yourself. 

        My patient was 81 years young, and had an inferior M.I. (heart attack in the bottom part of the heart.)  Of course, there are no good heart attacks, but as far as they go inferiors tend to do reasonably well most of the time.  Everything seemed to be going along O.K. till around midnight, when she had a burst of V. tach and a cardiac arrest.

        It was a long night.  After several more defibrillations, it was good to see the sun rise.  I was more than happy to call in reinforcements, and sent her down the road to Sandhills U.  Back then they did not do much high tech intervention in a cardiac patient that age, and they treated her about the same as we would have at home.  As it turned out the stay was uneventful, but it was still good to get second opinion.  In a few days she was safe to go home. 

        When the rescue squad boys took her out the door to go to Sandhills she said, “Tommy, I sure hated to keep you up all night, please apologize to your sweet wife for me.”

        “No problem, ma’am.  She’s given me permission to stay out all night with all the women I want to as long as they are older than 80.”  (Now that I am older, I suspect my wife would change her mind, the age limit, or both.)

          We teased about it for years, and I would tell her the two of us just couldn’t go out at night any more.  She was too wild; we’d have to meet at the office during daylight hours. 

        She was a sweetheart, and I’m proud to say she lived another dozen years.  She did quite well until her last eighteen months when age and heart failure finally caught up with her.

        I thought of her today when I saw her son for a physical.  There is a special bond in those all night-ers, and I’m still tight with the whole family.  Insurance chart guys, and sometimes young docs, often do not understand how we know so much about our people.  It’s ’cause we don’t have to ask the family history- we were there!

Dr. B

Band Together For Butch

February 17, 2008

        My first mandolin teacher, Butch Baldassari, of Nashville, Tennessee is fighting a tough medical battle.  As a Doc, I don’t feel like I should write up all the details, but his story is well outlined on his website, SoundArt Recordings.  Also, our Mandolin Cafe keeps us posted with regular updates. 

        Butch was not only my first teacher, but for the mandolin community he is “America’s teacher.”  My guess is more mando students got their start from his mandolin intro series than any other source.  I recently picked up a few of his items I did not have, and his wife sent me a “Band Together For Butch” arm bracelet, which I now wear every day.  The bracelet has become the symbol of support for Butch in our little tight-knit community of mandolin folks.

        So, go over to SoundArt Recordings and visit.  As you know, mine is a 100% non-commercial weblog, but if you have an interest in what all the mandolin fuss is about consider picking up one of his CDs.  The family could use the support and IMHO (bluegrass for in my humble opinion) you will get more than your $15.00 in blessings. 

        When you look at his site you will see there is something for everyone.  Butch is great at bluegrass, but it doesn’t stop there.  He has CDs of mandolin orchestra, Christmas music, hymns, Irish, Celtic, and much more.  My personal favorite is the spare and humble “Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer.”  Butch grew up in Pennsylvania, but it sounds like it could have been recorded on a N.C. mountain front porch like some of locales I report from.

        Most of all, y’all send up some prayers for my old friend.  His illness falls into the category of “things old Docs can’t understand why it is that way,” and he and his people are in my thoughts and prayers.

Dr. B