Archive for February 2010

Bluegrass Purgatory and White Robes

February 28, 2010

        My FaceBook ‘Song of The Day’ was ”The Old Camp Meeting Days’ by Jim and Jesse. I think we should be thankful for the new that is good (like modern cataract surgery) but still embrace the old ways we don’t need to lose. 

        I thought about ‘White Robe’ too.  You need to hear my little pal Brooke Aldridge sing that one sometime.  I am not a theologian by any stretch, but I know you can’t get into Heaven on good works alone.  I’ve tried to live right the best I can but have failed many times.  On my own I fear the best I could do is scratch my way into Bluegrass Purgatory.  (Down in the laundry in charge of the White Robes, but not allowed to wear one.)

        One of my worst faults is stubbornness and being slow to forgive.  I’m not too bad about it if people are mean to me, but if they are mean or disrespectful to my people I go into a tailspin and figure out all sorts of ways to trip them up.

        Sometimes I think the best way to defuse them is to say, “You sure have been mean.  I want you to leave my people alone, but at the same time I pray you will find peace and happiness.”  I don’t have many enemies, but I do get around to praying for them over time.  I am just too slow about it. 

        Oh well, I guess none of us live up to His standards.  So today my prayer is for the people who have been mean to my family and friends.  I want them to leave my people be, but I still hope they can find their way to happiness.  I don’t deserve a White Robe, but know I can have one if I am sorry for what I do wrong.  At the same time I’m only human.  When I don’t get it right all I can do is shrug my shoulders, ask for forgiveness, and move on.  

        I’d send a message that my coat size is 44 long but He already knows that.  I didn’t earn it but I believe He’ll wrap it around me anyway.

Dr. B


Music Therapy -Somewhere Over the Rainbow

February 27, 2010

        By mid-morning I had given a tearful family a bad diagnosis and delivered the news with as much compassion as I could.  I’d fought with two insurance companies to approve therapy that had already helped my patients.  A team of high dollar lawyers was determined to deny benefits to some poor guy who was hurt on the job.  I gave them my usual line.  “The truth is a powerful ally.  I suggest you book a day at the Courthouse here and convince a jury I’m not telling the truth.”  So far, no takers.  

        It was all so unfair I had to stop for some music therapy.  The office ground to a halt.  Everyone waited. I chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’  I played it for a little friend who was scared of those flying monkeys.  I’m only one old gray-haired country doc, but at least today the child was reassured.  I wanted to let her know we can overcome fear.  Poor Judy Garland was so sensitive. Even as a child she knew there had to be something better.  Follow the Yellow Brick Road; maybe there are still some Wizards out there.

         I dedicate this song and today’s post to all my music friends.  They are my music therapists. When they play on my office IPOD I can see my way to get by one more hypocritical insurance company or executive type who views a patient as part of their private market share kingdom.  

        My patients come to me not because I am the world’s best doctor, but because I view them as fellow human beings and not pawns in a grand commercial scheme.  With the help of the Good Lord and my chosen stress reliever of music therapy no one can stop me.

Dr. B

‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell

February 25, 2010

        Right now I am reading ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell.  I have long been fascinated by what makes successful people and institutions tick, and he seems to have some logic behind his analysis of the subject.

        He starts out with a discussion of a town with an unexpected low rates of disease. The people who live there have a much lower rate of heart disease, cancer, and early death than communities of similar size and demographics only a few hundred miles away.  He concluded it was the tight nature of the group.  They tended to be supportive of neighbors.  They worked hard but played music and had fun too.  They lived by loyalty and kindness.  Wow, sounds like the bluegrass crowd or the wordpress blog community huh?

        Some had to do with being in the right place at the right time.  If you want play professional hockey in Canada, make sure you are born in January.  The extra six months of maturity feeds the system’s perception of athletic superiority, and these kids got more attention, more play time, and thus more practice.  This gave them the opportunity to develop superior skills over time.

        I enjoyed his concept of ‘smart enough.’  In some professions one has to be smart to make it, but past a certain level raw IQ was not predictive of success.  (I was esp glad to read this!)  For a doc you have to be smart enough to read the books, but after that many factors such as empathy, compassion, kindness, tenacity, curiosity, and just plain love of people are more predictive.

        By worldly measures I guess I’ve had some success as a doctor.  I didn’t make as much money as most though it was more than enough.  I’ve aced a string of Board tests though I always fell short of absolute number one, which I guess borders on un-American to tell you. 

        But I sure did enjoy the privilege to take care of my people.  My number one rule was alway this:  The patient is the boss.  I tell mine all the time,  “If you aren’t happy about how things are going, come tell me and I’ll do what I can to fix it or find someone who can.  You are my boss; don’t ever forget it.”

        I guess it’s worked okay. Even though we’re all gonna die and I can’t change that, my people seem satisfied I’m gonna make every effort to keep ’em here as long as I can and with as little pain as possible.  As I told one the other day, “I know I’ve got a Heavenly Home but I ain’t homesick yet.”  (It was a quote from the preacher)

        Hm.  Maybe all that makes me some kind of ‘Outlier.’  I don’t know but I know this:  After a lifetime of being this way it is unlikely I’m gonna change now.  I don’t know how to be anything else.

        Y’all check out Mr. G’s book.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Dr. B

The Road to Publication

February 22, 2010

        My book is not signed yet, but I see clear signs it is close and will get there.   In the meantime, I want you to know I now have an article in a national publication with the Kent State University Press. 

        It is a long story.  A couple years ago my agent had something come across his desk that caught his eye.  It was a call for articles on the life of a country doctor.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time! 

        He sifted through his files.  I can see the scene.  “Let’s see now, here’s the vampire writer, no, no that won’t do,  hmm, cookbooks…I don’t think so…where did I put that….uh…that resume from that doctor who plays bluegrass music…. I wonder ….”

        He sent me an e-mail.  “No promises, but send me a draft on this and I’ll consider it.”

       I was like a dog with a bone.  My wife was gone to a meeting that weekend so I spent the whole time on the draft.  I sent it off Sunday night at midnight.  Monday morning I got an e-mail from him.  “Needs work, but has potential.”  

        Let me tell you if you want unconditional love find a good spouse or call your mama, but don’t sign on with an agent.  These guys know more about rejection than Charlie Brown, and have seen it all twice.

         I will say one thing for my man though.  He’s as persistent as I am.  He helped me with it over a few weeks, and we sent it on.  (Since then I have added editor Dorrie to my list of co-dependents; wish I’d known ‘ya back then Sis.)  We waited.

        Months went by.  Then one day there it was.  They were interested.  I recall the word ‘charming.’  They also felt it needed a bit more work, but wanted to use it in the publication.  Ecstatic wouldn’t cover the emotion I felt.  I was so taken by the fact that anyone as smart as Dr. Therese Zink would find anything about this old country doctor’s words charming that I ’bout had a near falling out spell.      

         You see, Dr. Zink has been published in JAMA.  I always found her work clear, honest, and to the point.  She knows all the big words, but never uses them to cover up the truth.  Just my kind of writer.  If I’m thought to be half as good as her, it would be more than enough.  Heck it’d be like if somebody said I play the mandolin like Darin or Wayne.  (Wish I could, but it ain’t true.  I don’t.)

          So there you have it.  Dr. Tommy Bibey, who in real life ain’t nothing but a slightly above average country doctor and second-rate mandolin picker, mixes it up in the world of medical journalism and borders on one foot in the door of Literature.  Next thing ‘ya know I’m gonna be playing my mandolin for English Professors.  

        Along with my wife and kids, agent, and editor, I owe the most of it to my far-flung bluegrass and blog pals around the world.  It seems to me as improbable as if Walter Mitty was to be voted King of the World. 

        So today I’d like to refer you over to Dr. Zink’s website.  The link is below and I’ve added it to my blogroll.  I’m listed on the biography page along with the other docs around the country who contributed to the compilation. 

        Go check it out.  Tell Dr. Zink some old mandolin picking doctor sent you.  She’ll likely have the same reaction as my wife, my nurses, my editor Dorrie, and all my old English teachers had.  “Lord have mercy, what am I gonna do with this boy?”

Dr. B

My Sunday Prayer

February 21, 2010

        First of all, my thoughts are with the family and friends of Jennings Chestnut who just passed away after a brief illness.  I did not know him, but he was one of the mainstays of the Myrtle Beach bluegrass scene and knew a lot of my friends.  A number of my buddies are down there today, but I had commitments at home and couldn’t leave.  My heart is with them though.

        After a day as an amateur lumberjack I am reflective.  I am lucky to be a doc because sometimes I am allergic to real work.  I gotta let you in a secret though.  Most docs, me included, are driven for perfection in an impossible business beyond what is healthy.  

        I think it is why I identify with the fine artists I have been so fortunate to know.  Compared to them I am a hack player.  I have not given  it what they have and do not deserve to play at that level.  At the same time, I have some inkling of their mind.  When someone in the crowd comes up and asks a virtuoso player if they know ‘Turkey in the Straw’ I almost want to shake them.

        It’s the same way in medicine for me.  If someone wants to serve up a simplistic notion to address a complicated problem I not only won’t go along, but can get downright mean over it.  My nurses have been with me twenty-five years and can see it coming every time. They just laugh and go along, because they know it is hopeless to change old Doc now. 

        They are smarter than me.  They know in the end we are all out of here, it is all in God’s hands, and there really isn’t anything I can do about it.  But the human part of me can’t quit trying any more than the artists I know who seek unattainable perfection. 

        How ’bout y’all saying a prayer for Doc?  I hope I might do my best to find my kind and gentle side when I deal with people who aren’t cursed with the drive that propels a man to search for what is not possible.  

Dr. B

Ego Be Gone

February 20, 2010

      I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve got as much ego as the next guy, especially when it comes to patient care.  There I can be a maniacal animal.  I want it done right when people’s lives are at stake.

        But in everything else in life I try to set it aside.  There is a lot to learn from other people.  All my life I have followed a pattern.  When I find someone better than me at something I end up becoming their friend.  When I first came to Harvey County, people said I was smart ’cause I could do good on those bubble tests.  One day a guy showed up in town who was from a famous institution.  After a few conversations, I thought he knew more than I did.  He became a wonderful friend and a valued consultant.  What I can’t understand is why some folks felt threatened by him and did their best to undermine him.  

        It has sure been that way for me in music.  I’ve played with guys whose case I shouldn’t carry, but they have accepted me because I at least care enough to try to understand what they are doing even though I am not that gifted.

        We all have our Achille’s heels, though.  Like I said before if someone gets after my people I can turn surly and competitive and will work every angle available to kick their you know what.  It is a side of me I don’t like and have to forever work on. 

        One of my treasured staff people found me a fine Bible verse that comforted me.  She accepts me for what I am; an old plow horse who gets his blood up on race day and thinks he’s a thoroughbred.  I went home and told my wife about the parts of the day are legally and ethically acceptable to discuss.  She smiled and fixed me some chicken soup.  I might write my buddy Cliff and ask him to send me another verse.  That old Bible has some good answers to hard questions.

        Today is a better day, and I am back to my old amicable self.  I got some things done for my people on a couple fronts without the compromise of anyone’s privacy, and I didn’t shoot anyone, so I’m happy.  I prayed about it, and managed to stuff that stupid ego back in the foot locker. 

        I have found smart people are often on the same page even though at first it seems like they might be reading a different book.  If they are smart, care, try hard, and are honest, I’ll give ’em their due even if I don’t agree with them 100%. 

        I’m gonna help my wife in the yard today.  I don’t know a thing about it, but she loves it.  Spring is coming on and she knows how to create beauty out there, so I’m gonna try to learn something from her.

Dr. B

Here’s Who This Doc is Loyal To

February 19, 2010

         God and family are at the top of the list of course, but today I am talking about loyalty as a doctor.  Who is the doctor loyal to?

        This will be a very short post, because it is a very short answer: it is the patient. 

        For the most part, I am what I seem; a simple country doctor who plays the mandolin and whose idea of a big night on the town is to take his wife to a bluegrass show.  There have only been a few people I went to war with over the years. 

        It was over the same issue every time.  If anyone stepped on the rights of my patient, I became a beast.  If they were rude or disrespectful to them, it made no difference to me who they were, I found a politically correct way to insure they wound up out of the loop.  I have worked with the same nurses for twenty-five years, and they would be the first to tell you not to step in between me and my patient any more than you’d crawl into a bear’s den and tell a grizzly how to raise her young’un.  

      My patients are my boss.  I live to serve them.  When I read doctor books, it is with them in mind.  To an outsider, the intensity of these relationships is near impossible to understand. 

        The reason I play the mandolin is so I won’t burn up inside.   My advice to people who want to understand my mind on this is to go the medical school and spent a hundred hours a week for a decade to come to grips with some small fraction of the complexity of the human doctor/patient relationship, and stick with it a few decades until you understand how little you still know.  Then we can talk about it.  Otherwise, I would advise people to not get in between me and my patient.

Dr. B

Don’t Trample on Me (Or esp my People)

February 17, 2010

        As my book gets closer, I have had a lot of people ask why I was so driven to write it.  Even if the free world gets together and tries to figure out a way to stop me they will fail.

         Along the way I saw a lot of things I didn’t like.  My biggest pet peeve was when rich and powerful people tried to take advantage of the less fortunate.  That never failed to get my blood up.

        When I was young the resolution of such issues presented a dilemma.  I saw how the wicked handled things.  It was easy to be mean and not get taken advantage of.  All you had to do was fire some innocents, hire some bad a^^ lawyers, or even worse resort to physical violence.  As best I could tell it didn’t take much of a brain to do it that way either.  Any fool could do it.

        What I wanted to figure out was how to be a decent person and still not get trampled on.  That required some creativity that bordered on art, but I found some key strategies to see me through.  That is what I want to share and I am going to do so.  In fact, I have a series of three books planned. The entire plan will take that many pages to show.

        I had several people try to take advantage of me along the way, but I dodged them as sure as a matador who waves a cape in front of one of those pea brained bullies.  And if they tried to get after my family or my people I was even more tenacious.  But I am proud to say I was able to deal with them but not give up the sense of grace and dignity my wife and I sought out years ago.  I had to write to show other good people how it happened, that they might find the path easier for my experience.

        Oh, you might wonder what happened to the bad guys.  They are still out there.  In the end, I always let ’em go.  I was like a fisherman with a catch on the hook.  I’d let them jump back in the water and watch them swim away.  I know they’re gonna come back.  When they do, I’ll catch ’em again.  It’s easy ’cause they are so dim-witted and predictable they always try the same things.  I can deal them while I play my mandolin.  I can only smile as I watch them sweat and scheme and worry over just what they are gonna do, ’cause I know where it’s gonna go. 

        I am the nice man I seem.  I try to treat everyone with respect.  But to anyone out there with a notion they are gonna take advantage of my people; oh well…

Dr. B

Here’s To Marfar (Valentine’s Day)

February 15, 2010

        Now, before my readers get confused, I want you to know I didn’t forget Valentines Day.  We got back from the festival mid-day Sunday and had a quiet day at home.  I never would have made it as a touring musician.  I was a little short on talent in the monitors, but even more important, a short week-end is a long time away from home.  (We’re gonna stretch that out a little for a while when the book comes out)  As the song says, home is where the heart is, and mine is right here.

        I thought about our Valentine’s Day weekend.  For an overgrown bluegrass boy if your wife’s idea of a romantic get-away is a weekend at a bluegrass festival to listen to the pros play by day, Valentine’s dinner with your kids at the Japanese steakhouse, and then pick and sing half the night, and her only special treatment is the first cup of coffee brought to her before she gets out of bed the next morning; well, that’s a good woman right there. 

        If your wife gives you two beautiful children and a Gibson mandolin, and can play the bass and sing a good tenor line, I recommend you hold her close.

        As one old boy said, “Doc, is this your wife?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Son, you sure out-punted your coverage.”

        I did and I ain’t too proud to say so.  Here’s to Marfar; Happy Valentines Day! (It was yesterday wasn’t it?)

Dr. B

Jam With the Pros

February 14, 2010

        When a guy like Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range invites you to a jam, make sure to go.  The room was full of Asheville’s best; people I had seen over the years on stage with a number of bands. Some of them were the featured performers on the show that night.  There was not a weak player in the room.  Their trio work was so strong it’d thump you in the chest from five feet away.  No need for microphones here.

        I went to another session for a while I’d been invited to, but Darren said to come back.  When I walked in they had taken a break.  Nicky Sanders of ‘The Steep Canyon Rangers’ was there.  I’d just heard him on the big stage a few hours earlier.

        I extended my hand.  “Great playing man.  I believe you’ve had some classical training.”

        “Oh, a little.”  He smiled.  I suspected it was a lot more than that.

        “And a bit of jazz too?”

       “Yes.”  He eyed my case.  “We’ve got two fifths of a band here.  Let’s play.”

        Someone handed a guitar to Caleb, the red-hot flat picker of Balsam Range.  Mike picked up the bass out of the corner.  Some kid I didn’t know sang ‘Down in the Willow Garden’ so high and clear it’d ’bout break glass.  It was on.  A crowd gathered.  Some of them had accents that weren’t hillbilly, but they sang along on several songs.  Someone said they were from Finland.

        It was everything from “Minor Swing’ to ‘Little Cabin Home in the Hill.”  I’m don’t play at level of these guys, but they didn’t complain.  Nicky called for ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’  It’s one of those tunes that came in from across the pond.  I hadn’t played it in years and my version was rough style.

        There wasn’t anything rough style about Nicky Sanders fiddle work. This guy had total mastery of the bow.  Even the highest notes were perfect in intonation.  He was the best fiddler I’ve ever stood beside in a jam, and the first person I’ve heard in a long time who can hold his own with Micheal Cleveland.  A true candidate for fiddler of the year here.

       My usual rule these days is to turn into a doc at midnight, but I broke it for this one and stayed up too late.  I’ve got to strap on a stethoscope instead of a mandolin tomorrow so I’ll take a nap today, but I’ll be ready.

        When I get a break Wednesday I’m gonna relearn ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’  If I’m gonna get to jam with the pros I’m gonna be ready for that too.

Dr. B