I Put You Through College and Catfish John
Mrs. Greer was one of the first patients I saw in private practice. She was in the ER after a sudden cardiac arrhythmia and near syncopy. (Around here they call it a falling out spell) Sweat popped out on her brow, and her color was dusky. Her shortness of breath was so obvious it’d been noticed by a third year med student. I had seen her once in the office when my dad was out ot town. She’d seen him for years.
I approached the bedside and looked up at the cardiac monitor. She struggled to sit up in the bed. “You better be nice to me. I put you through college.” She wagged a finger at me and sputtered out a laugh in spite of all the coughing.
I liked this woman immediately. How brave can you get? Near death and made me smile. I am proud to say we got her converted (cardiac that is; she was already saved) and she lived another seventeen years.
I saw her daughter in the office the other day. She has developed the exact same cardiac condition her mom had and is doing well. I asked her how she liked the new office. “Just fine, Dr. B. It’s real nice. But we don’t come to the building. We come to you. Wherever you go we’re gonna follow. We ain’t gonna forget you saved mama.”
“Maybe I better take you to visit Corporate. I’m getting kinda gray you know.”
“Don’t matter to us.”
“I gotta take good care of you guys. Your mama put me through college.”
She smiled at the memory. “Y’all need to have an open house. We could do a covered dish supper.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“You’ll bring your mandolin won’t you?”
“I’ve played for my supper before.”
“Hey Doc, you remember when Sis……”
It was like that all day. The only patient I had seen less than twenty years was the fifteen year old with strep throat. Every time the whistle blew I did think about what it might be like to hop a freight train, but I knew I’d make it a round trip. I thought how lucky I have been. I’ve been seeing the same folks for all these years. I’ve had the same doctor myself. My barber cut my hair as a kid. My mechanic and I went to high school together. My uncle was my dentist until he retired and now I go to my cousin. I’ve played music with the same cats and golf with the same choose-up boys at the muni. One way or another, they all of take care of me as much as I take care of them, and all I have to do is read books and write prescriptions. Mrs. Greer even put me through college. I didn’t make a big pile of money, but I don’t see how any human could have been more blessed.
All I gotta say is what the heck kinda million dollar insurance executive in Raleigh really believes he’s gonna know my patient better than me? He can photo-copy records all he likes, but he won’t be Doc for my people any more than I’m gonna jump on a stage and turn into Mike Marshall on the mandolin. Like Mike I gave it my life. It’s hard to whup a guy like that.
Don’t tell this, ’cause it might get me in trouble, but when a patient of mine like Catfish John gets a letter from the government or insurance company that recommends a change in their medicine he just laughs at them. “Don’t them SOBs know I tried that in 1993?”
“I know that guy, John. He used to get picked last in softball.”
“I ain’t surprised.”
I went back to my desk and picked a few bars of ‘Catfish John.’ If that fellow was to come to town he wouldn’t have any idea where to look for a guy like John. If he did luck up and find him, he’d be best off to take me on his first few visits. John doesn’t take to strangers until he’s had a decade to size ’em up and he’s got no more use for a man in a suit and tie who shows up in Harvey County out of the blue and gonna ‘help’ him than I do.