Archive for June 2008

My First Band (The Mystics)

June 12, 2008

        Long before I was into bluegrass mandolin I played rock ‘n roll guitar.  (Don’t tell my guys, they are very traditional.)  Like all kids my age we were smitten by the Beatles and took to music over it.  Hey- Paul McCartney was a big Bill Monroe fan.  We thought the Beatles were just bluegrass without a banjo.

        I was in middle school at the time, and got me an old Fender butterscotch ’52 Tele which I still have today, learned three chords and put me together a band.  Me and my buddy Tyler on the Saxophone were the “masterminds.”  We named the band “the Mystics” ’cause we saw the name on a roll of Scotch tape and thought it sounded cool.

        Tyler and I were quite meticulous in our choices for band mates.  We got Ed Hardy to play the organ.  He didn’t play one, but he had taken two years of piano so we figured he’d do, and we knew his mom had an organ in the living room she didn’t play any more.  She didn’t even notice when we put some rollers on it to make it easier to take to gigs.

        Our drummer was Pete “Trash Can” Stanley, so named ’cause of his heavy touch on the cymbals and for the parties his brother used to throw where they filled up trash cans with some strange purple liquid.   His mama was liberal and let us practice in Trash Can’s basement.  In exchange we were the house band for all his brother’s parties.  I didn’t know a blessed thing about the guitar, but with that crowd all you had to be able to play was “Louie, Louie” and “Wipe Out” and you could get by.

        Even at fourteen I was the responsible type, and would drive the impaired party goers home.  (This was before they invented the term designated driver.)  I figured it’d be better to drive without a license than for someone to drive drunk and kill somebody. 

        Tyler’s cousin found a guy they called Buddy Slick to play the bass.  (I played with Buddy three years and never knew his real name.)  Buddy had peroxide bleached blond hair, wore polka dotted shirts, smoked cigarettes, and had a driver’s licence.  None of our moms would let him in the house.  Buddy was a fine addition, ’cause he had the connections to get us all the nightclub gigs in the area.  We had to stay at Tyler’s when we played those.  (My folks woulda caught on, plus as a Doc my dad was in and out all night and mighta caught us.)  Tyler’s people were old and when they’d go to bed we’d jump out the window and go play.  When we got back we’d hose off in the yard so the cigarette smoke from the place wouldn’t give us away and then crawl back in the bed just in time for Tyler’s mom to wake us to a fine breakfast. 

        It might sound like a bad thing for a kid to do, but it was good preparation.  For one, I had no use for intoxicated people or cigarette smoke after what all I saw at those shows, and also I got used to all nighters which came in handy years later for study or as a Doc.  ( I was an energetic kid.)

        Maybe our smartest personnel selection was Scottie McDougall as lead singer.  I called him myself to ask if he’d join.  We had no idea if he could sing, but it didn’t matter.  He was considered quite cute by all the girls at school.  We figured if he was lead singer, they’d show up at our gigs.  Most teen-aged boys get into music to meet girls so it worked out perfect.

        I remember out first paid gig like it was yesterday.  We were at Trash Can’s house in the basement, and some lady from the Methodist church came to listen to us audition to play a youth supper.  Tyler was our business manager.  (He wound up as President of a national company that sells band equipment.)  All of us wore jeans and T-shirts, but Tyler wore a double breasted suit and a tie.

        “Let me all the talking,” he said.  “You boys don’t know nothing about negotiations.”

        He was right.  The only work I’d done was to cut grass for two bucks a yard, and we didn’t need for that nice lady to meet Buddy Slick, so we let Tyler handle it.

        The lady listened to a few tunes and Tyler put down his sax and went over to discuss the gig with her.

        “Well, I think you boys are good.  How much do you charge?”  she asked.

        Tyler did his best to act like a grown up professional.  We were real proud of him.  “Well, ma’am.  We feel like we have a very fine band.  We’ve practiced and worked hard to put together a first class show, so we’re going to charge fifty dollars this year.”

        “Fifty dollars!  I had more in mind something like five.”

        “We’ll take it.”  Some kinda negotiator Tyler was.

        We played the gig.  Had some good food, met some nice girls, and got paid a dollar apiece.

        Some things never change.  We have a bluegrass gig coming up at the Park. The Moose lined it up.  At four bucks we are a cheap ticket.  I guess you get what you pay for.  You can come see us play or buy a gallon of gas, and I think we are a better deal.

        And now all the girls I meet just want to know if I am taking new Medicare patients.  Oh well, I’ve been lucky my whole life, I don’t see any reason to change now, so I’d better go get ready for show time.

        Before it was all over the Mystics played some good gigs.  We dabbled in soul music and played once with Joe Tex.  (“Skinny Legs and All ” was one of his tunes along with “Show Me.”)   Then we landed an upstate S.C. show to open for Jr. Walker and the All-Stars (one of their big hits was “Pucker up Buttercup, I Wanna Kiss You One Time”) but after that the band busted up and we all went off to college.  Tyler was a music major, and I became a Doc.  Pete is a golf pro (nothing was ever wrong with his touch with a putter) and Ed got into real estate.   Scottie owns a construction company.  And Buddy Slick- I don’t know what ever happened to Buddy, we lost track of him and never saw him again.  If he is still alive maybe he’ll read this and resurface.  Or maybe I’ll see him if he gets sick.  I get reacquainted with a lot of old friends that way.  I wonder if he still plays the bass.  We need a sub at church from time to time and I bet he could cut the gig.

Dr. B



June 9, 2008

        I love Summertime, both the season and the song.  I’ve never heard a bad version of it, but Doc Watson’s is my favorite.       

        I don’t know how it is up North, but here in the South it is a regular heat wave.  As the old bluegrass joke goes, it is so hot when the dog chases the cat both of ’em are walking. 

        I expect even the frozen tundra has thawed out.

        But unless this global warming thing goes any further, I’ll have to say I still love summer.  When we were kids we’d get up and throw on a pair of shorts and spend the whole day outside.  Sunscreen had not been invented.  (Which is why I go to the Dermatologist once a year now.)  We weren’t poor, and had plenty of money for shoes, but we went barefoot just ’cause we wanted to.

        Near the house there was an abandoned field where we played ball.  At the end of the field there was a “cliff.” (When I went back to look last year it turned out to be but a small incline.)  After you got nine or so and could hit a home run every time, you had to bat left handed.  Once you could hit ’em over left handed you got to go out for Little League.  One of our best players was a girl, and they wouldn’t let her try out.  I didn’t understand why.  She couldn’t hit it quite as far, but she was an excellent fielder.  For us it was a democratic game.  Everyone had different skill levels, but we all got to play. 

        As we got older, and there were more home runs, we’d often lose the ball in the honeysuckle vines on the hillside of the “cliff.”  That honeysuckle smelled sweeter than perfume.  There was also a blackberry patch, and we’d eat wild blackerries and honeysuckle while we searched for the ball.  We had to find it, ’cause we only had one, so the game would not resume till we did.  And if you cracked a bat, you’d nail it back together and then wrap it real tight with black tape to get to the end of the season.  The kids who play ball now carry an assortment of equipment in those pro duffel bags miss a bunch of fun.  We never lacked for a thing, but could not be that extravagant and had to make do. 

        After we got older we could go to the Park to swim, and I think it cost about a dime.  They had a chain link fence right in the middle of the pool to cordon off the deep end.  I guess we had some emergencies, but I don’t remember that anyone ever drowned. 

        Then we got into golf.  It was an extra fifty cents but you could play all day for that.  We didn’t know how to hold the club, much less play.  The only good player we knew was Arnie on T.V. and we all tried to swing like him, but none of us got that good.  We dug the game out of the dirt the best we could figure.

        For me summer is bluegrass music, and home made ice cream.  It is pretty girls (though now I only I answer to two, my wife and daughter) and Nat King Cole (“Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer”) and Al Hirt (“Java”) on the hi-fi all one summer. 

        At this age, I like summer ’cause old bones and muscles loosen up and the golf ball flies a little further, and it is still all music and laziness.  It used to be the whole town shut down for Wednesday afternoon.  That tradition has died out, but we still don’t work as hard in the summer, even in the doctor business.

        I tried the best I could to make summer that way for my kids in spite of this crazy modern world, and when I have grandchildren I think I’m gonna be worse.  I see it as my responsibility to make sure they know about honeysuckle vines and home-made ice cream.  And I want to teach ’em a little mandolin or banjo.  It wouldn’t be fitting to grow up in the South any other way.

Dr. B

Work Horses, Thoroughbreds and Doctors

June 8, 2008

        My recent post on Roarco the pony set me to think about the farm animals when I was a kid.  I didn’t grow up on the farm, but my grandparents had one.  I spent enough time out there to learn a little bit- at least enough to know I’d better study.  It was hard work.

        In many ways, the animals had roles much like doctors.  I turned out to be more of a work horse than a thoroughbred.  Regardless of the task at hand, you could hitch up a workhorse and take care of the daily drudgery.  They were reliable and asked for little.  Like a mutt dog- loyal, predictable, they were natured for long term commitment. 

        On the other hand, the thoroughbreds had their place too.  They were nervous and skittish.  They pranced around and needed all sorts of need of attention, but on race day they could outrun an old workhorse, no doubt about it.  But you know what?  The workhorse seemed happy enough with his lot; just give him an apple every once in a while and he’d go back to the job.  The thoroughbreds were the center of attention, and never satisfied.  If you hitched ’em up to a plow, they’d turn around and look at you as if to say, “Do you know who I am?”

        It’s good we have both.  We used to have a Neurosurgeon who was so darn persnickety you couldn’t stand him more than three minutes.  But, he was talented.  I told my patients we’d better put up with it, ’cause we might need him someday.  After all, you don’t need a Family Neurosurgeon.  On the other hand, if you had to plow the South Forty with the S.O.B. every spring, there’d be one dead show pony to account for.

        I realized a long time ago I was no star.  I was in the top third of the class but several were clearly brighter.  There was one in particular they still talk about at Sandhills today.  His name was Tom Bailey. I was good for the 92nd or so, but this cat made the 99th percentile on every Board Test we ever took.  And he was a nice fellow too.  Wound up in Massachusetts doing cancer research.  I hope he finds some answers, and he is the type who might just do it.

        One day I asked the good Lord why I couldn’t be that smart.  The answer was “I wanted you to be smart enough to be able to talk to people like Tom Bailey, but dumb enough to be a country doctor.”  I didn’t question  it any more.  To stay in general medicine for a lifetime you gotta be a little dumb, a stubborn old work horse, or both.

        I will tell you one more part to this story, though.  Several years ago, a favorite patient was dying.  You can tell the end is near ’cause all the consultants drop off the case.  It is just you and your patient and the family.  (And nowadays Hospice is there too, bless their souls.) 

        This patient’s brother was a big wig at Sandhills before he retired.  Every so often we would share Tom Bailey stories.  We agreed he was one of the brightest med students to ever come through Sandhills School of Medicine.

        After my patient died, a package came in the mail.  It was marked: Photos: DO NOT BEND.  I opened it up.  Inside was a photo of me and my patient when I made hospital rounds one day.  It was inscribed by the brother: 

        “To Sandhill’s best Doctor, thanks for taking care of my brother.”  It hangs in my study today, and is one of my most prized possessions.

        That picture beats the h&## out of any apple those old work horses ever got.  Doctoring is hard work at times, but days like that make me ready to hitch up to the plow Monday morning and go at it again.

Dr. B

D.P. – What It Is Is (But Sometimes It Ain’t)

June 7, 2008

        Dr. Dee had a patient with appendicitis who had pain on the left side instead of the right.  He did a fine job ’cause he did not succumb to diagnostic perseveration, or D.P.

       D.P. is a common error, and one that is easy to fall into.  In it, you hold onto your original hypothesis at all costs.  At first for all the world the patient seemed to have diverticulitis, but after a couple days it didn’t add up, and Dr. D reversed field and considered appendicitis.  A CT confirmed the suspicion, and the patient did well.

        In medicine what is is most of the time, but one has to keep in mind what is sometimes ain’t.  At times folks don’t understand, but it is why we are very reluctant to ever assume much or diagnose over the telephone.  Nothing strikes fear in me more than to have someone call and say, “well, I’m ‘pretty sure’ I have a stomach virus.”  (One time when it turns out to be an aneurysm will make a believer out of you right quick.)

        Knock on wood; tomorrow might be the day I have a disaster, but I have been saved more than once by not falling into diagnostic perseveration.  Most of the time, I got it right ’cause I came, I saw, and I reconsidered a few times in the interview.  Often it is because the patient gave me the clues that made me chunk my original theory about what was wrong. 

        There is an old saying in medicine:  “If all else fails, ask the patient.  (like reading the directions, I guess)  They will usually tell you what is wrong.”  That has proved true over and over for me.  They might not say “I think I have scleroderma,” but they will sure enough tell you the symptoms that will lead you down the right path if you don’t forget to listen.

        For Dr. Dee’s patient, it is a good thing he listened.  What it is is, but it wasn’t.  Thank goodness his radar was up and he was not bitten by D.P.  The patient was happy about it too.

Dr. B 

Bootsie and Roarco the Pony

June 5, 2008

        I don’t know what inspired me to write up this post except today a patient told me about their favorite pet they had as a kid.  So, I thought I’d tell you about mine.  If you had a favorite one, I’d like to hear of them.  I write this at the risk some of my readers might label me as the “Syndicated Sap of the South,” but I am serious.  I had several I thought of as family. 

        The first was Bootise.  She was a little dog who was part Cocker, part Pekingese and Lord knows what else.  I don’t remember how I came about Bootise, but she was my first pet.  When I went off to the first grade we had to lock her up every morning, cause she’d follow me to the school house. 

        One day my mom let her out too early, and she took off through the woods.  There was a shortcut there we’d take to play ball on the weekends, and it was a faster route.  Anyway, when I got to school there she was right by my desk.  The principal, Mr. Wilson, came in the room and tried to get her to leave and she bit him on the leg.  This didn’t go over well with my mom, and we had to take the dog out to grandma’s farm to stay.  I was gonna get to visit on the weekends. 

        We stopped on the way home to get a bite to eat, and when we got back to the house the dog was sitting right there on the front steps.  Mom didn’t have the heart to take her back out to the farm, so she got to stay.

        Sometime after Bootsie, I got the notion I needed a pony.  I had some grandiose plan I was gonna ride in the County Fair and win the pony race, which was beyond absurd for a little boy.  I nagged everyone so long we ended up with one.  I named it Roarco.  I have no idea why. 

        The plan was the pony was gonna live out on the farm and my cousins would ride it weekdays and I’d come out with my folks on the weekend.  My grandfather would take care of it and my dad would buy all the feed and supplies.  It wasn’t much of a deal for anyone but me- all I had to do was ride.

        Boy did I love that pony.  If you’ve never ridden one, Roarco might have invented the phrase “a horse headed for the barn.”  That animal was plum sluggish as we went out, but when we got to the south end of the pasture I’d turn her around and she’d take off headed for home.  You had to watch out for the clothes line- if the sheets were out she wouldn’t go through there, but if they weren’t she’d try to run under the clothesline, and I had to work to be sure she didn’t go that route.

        It all went along fine for a while but my cousins lost interest and my folks couldn’t get out there every weekend.  She got to where she wasn’t used to a rider and got rambunctious except with me.  One day my Uncle Jimmy decided to go for a ride.  I tried to tell him, but he got on anyway, and she ran him into the mailbox then threw him off and he broke his femur.  After that she got foundered.  The next thing I knew Roarco wasn’t there anymore, and I never was told where she went except Uncle Jimmy said something about the glue factory in the sky.  Even at that age he warn’t fooling me, but I got over it in time.

        Maybe those animals have to do with why I wound up so idealistic as an adult.  How many little boys dream of a pony and wind up with one?  My guess is very few are so lucky.  I’ll have to tell you though I never see a tube of Elmer’s without thinking of ole Roarco.  She was a fine pony.  I wish they hadn’t let anyone but me ride her though- I was the only one she trusted.

Dr. B

A Patient I am In Awe Of

June 4, 2008

        Ms. Cindy is a new reader to my blog.  Ya’ll need to check hers out- she is on my blogroll.  She tells all kinda good country tales and her ghost stories are extra special.  One day she talked about awe, and it set me to thinking about a patient I stand in awe of.  So today, this post is for Ms. Cindy, and to honor my patient, Brother Herbert.  This is a fiction blog, but the only thing that ain’t real about this post is his name- the rest of it, like him, is too good to be true.

        Herb retired after he worked for the Highway Department for years, and he also has a green thumb.  He is forever bringing me tomatoes and corn out of his garden.  That Silver Queen corn on the cob is the best- roast it up in the husks and slather it with butter and salt- oh well, I’ll check my cholesterol next week.

        One day I saw Herbert and ordered up some fancy tests.  They were needed, but in truth not gonna save his life, and maybe not even impact it too much.  Herb listened to all that and said, “Doc, I really admire you.  Now me, I couldn’t never learn all them doctor books, but I asked the Lord what I could do to help people.  I worked for the Highway Department- worked over there fifteen years and got promoted to the head man- stayed till I retired.  You know Doc, I can’t say all them big words, but I can only do what the Lord wants me to do.  So the whole time I’ve been in charge when I ride around the County and see something wrong I fix it.  If I’m on the way to church on Sunday and see a Stop Sign down, I get out of the car and put it back up.  If someones don’t run it and get killed I reckon I saved a life just as good as if you figured out ’bout their heart attack.”

        I think Herb got it right.  If we do the best at what we are here for, we’ve made our corner a bit better.  It’s like I tell my son the paramedic.  “Son, you’re a fine boy and a great paramedic, and you’re gonna save a lot of lives.  But don’t ever forget, that fellow who puts the chemicals in the drinking water down at the Water Plant is gonna save more lives than me and you put together.”  (I don’t want him to get above his raising.)  I admire those highway guys and the surgeons too.  I loved to read books, and the patients, but those surgeons kept the wrong hours to suit me. 

        I was too lazy to be a good highway man.  I worked there one summer, and all that saved me was my harmonica.  I’d sit in the front seat of the truck and play as we rounded up the workers.  I shoveled  a little asphalt, but it wasn’t long and they’d say, “Play that harp, boy.”  I was most happy to oblige- that was the hardest job I ever had.  By the end of summer, on Friday I’d cash my paycheck and pray for rain just like everyone else.  Made an “A” in Organic Chemistry that fall, too.  Every time I pass a paving crew I think of those boys.  If the traffic is slow, I’ll stick my head out the window and tell them I appreciate the hell our of ’em and I mean it too.  Several of them are my patients to this day.

        After he retired Herb couldn’t sit still and became a greeter at the eye clinic.  When I had my cataract surgery, he found I was on the schedule, and made sure every one knew they were gonna treat me special.

        “That’s my doctor ya’ll, and we’re gonna look after him.”  Dang if he didn’t almost make me want to do the other eye.  (A few years later I did, and he was still there.)  He brought me an oatmeal cookie and coffee after I was awake good, and checked on me every fifteen minutes.  It went fine, but if it hadn’t I assure you he’d gone to get the surgeon himself.

        I had all faith and confidence in my surgeon but my friend’s big baritone voice was some kinda human reassurance I can’t explain.  I guess I figured if a man would take off his Sunday coat on the way to church and put up a Stop Sign that got knocked down, it was the kind of place where they’d do all they could to make it right. 

        My eye surgery went perfect, and I give the Good Lord and the surgeon the credit, but ole Herbert being there didn’t hurt a thing for me.  Any surgeon who’s good enough for a highway man like Herb is good enough for me- them are some hard working rascals.

Dr. B                 

Patient’s Prayer

June 2, 2008

        I had a patient today who said a prayer right there in the exam room.

        She thanked the Good Lord for my patience in tending to my patients.

        She asked that I continue to be blessed with a good mind and to read and study to be able to look after them.  Given I am in a heavy duty study right now, and one of my greatest fears is that I might not keep up and get outdated, I found that part a special comfort.

        She asked the Lord to let me enjoy my music so I could get my mind off my patients for a while and relax.  Can you beat that?  The women was right on target.  I have to get away some to survive, and music is how I do it.

        She didn’t ask for any help on my golf game.  I am glad she didn’t.  It would be way too trivial and not in keeping with the serious nature of her requests.  Besides, even prayer wouldn’t help my game now- too old.

        I was touched.  When I am at work it is my job to look after everybody else.  It never occurs to me to look after myself, and here she was sent to do it for me.  Bless patients like her,  she’s a good’un.

Dr. B