Archive for March 2010

Table Tennis

March 31, 2010

        The older one was tall and had long arms.  The younger boy was quicker, but at age eight was no match for a sixteen year old.  The older one won every match until he left for college, got in with an even faster crowd of players there and was more dominant than ever.

        The older one left for medical school and had no time to play.  Years went by.  The younger boy left for college and joined a table tennis club.

        It was after Christmas dinner when the young one asked.  “Hey, man, we ought to play some pong.”

        “Hm.  We still got a table?”

        The mother answered.  “Yes, I saw it in the closet downstairs just the other day.”

        “Great,” the older one relied.  “Let’s go get it out.”

        They went to the basement and warmed up.  The older one noticed his shots were not quite as quick, or as accurate, but he was still young and had retained most of his skill.  They hit through a few rallies, and the game began.

        The young one prevailed, 21 to 18.  He placed his paddle on the table and took off in a run.  Mama suppressed a laugh.  She loved both of them, and showed no favoritism. “We’re never gonna play again,” the young one shouted and laughed as he bounded up the steps to his room. 

        For years they didn’t.  One day the younger one called.  He had a Sunday School party scheduled at his home.  The Preacher had challenged him to get up a doubles match.

        “Can you still play?” he asked the older boy.


        “We better practice,” he said.  “Preacher played semi-pro baseball.”

        “What position?”


        “Uh, oh.”  Pitchers only play in a rotation. They play other games on their days off, which is why they are often dangerous at golf  or table tennis.

         They practiced up.  Preacher was tough, but his Deacon partner was not quite as good.  The boys squeaked by.

         They began to think they were good.  They could beat anyone in town. They got invited to an exhibition in Raleigh.  “How good could they be?” the older one asked.  “They are only ranked in the top hundred in the U.S.” 

         “I dunno,” the young one said.  “They are sponsored by Butterfly.  I bet they can play.”

        “Maybe they’ll beat us but they’ll know they’ve been in a game.  We can whup anybody in Harvey County.”

        “Yep.  We’ll at least make ‘em work at it.”

        It was total humiliation.  They didn’t break a sweat.  Those guys hit serves we couldn’t see; much less hit. 

        It was a long ride home.  The young one spoke up.  “How’s your golf game, brother?”

        “Not bad.  I’m ‘bout too old for pong.”

        Decades went by.  The old one called his younger brother.  “We need to play some ping-pong.”

        “You been practicing?”

        “No man, I swear I haven’t.  Just want to work off some gut.  Let’s donate a table to the Y and hit a few.”

        “Is that the truth?”


        “No hustle?“

        “Swear to Mama.”


        The first session was sluggish but the second was better.  “”It’s this new ball,” the older one complained.  “It’s too big. At 40 mm it don’t have the same zip.”

        “Yep,” The younger one replied.  His slam just missed the edge of the table.  “It takes some of the speed out of the game, but I guess we better play by the new rules.”

        “Yeah man, it’s that durn new ball. That’s it for sure. 

        They promised to just hit for a month, then the games begin.  No big money involved; loser buys supper and winner leaves the tip.  The older boy still has longer arms, and now has better vision thanks to his cataract surgery but the younger one is quicker in spite of a touch of arthritis.

        My money’s on the old guy.

Dr. B


A Tip for the Doctor

March 29, 2010

        I’ve thought  a lot lately about favorite patients who have since passed on.

       I had one old man who was ill with cancer and a variety of chronic illnesses. His eyes were as gray as what little hair he had, and his hands were so gnarled up with arthritis they were turned near side ways. He had Parkinson’s disease and shuffled along with a cane. His dusky color alone was enough to convince me he was dying.

        One day after our visit he began to reach in his pocket. “Hold on Doc, I’ve got something for you.”  His hand trembled and it took him a minute, but he finally dug out a ten-dollar bill. He stretched out his hand to offer it to me.

        “Oh, no my friend, you pay up front. I don’t handle the money end of this thing.”

       “This ain’t your pay, it’s a tip.”

        “A tip? Man, we don’t allow tips.  Honest to goodness, it might even be against the law.”

       “Against whose law?”

        “The government.”

         “Ain’t none of them come down here to help me.”

        “No man, I can’t, really.”  I gently pushed his hand away.

       “Yeah you can.   The government don’t pay you enough anyway. The way I see it, I’m old and hard to take care of . I want you to see me coming and know I’m gonna make your day better. I don’t want you to forget me.” 

       I gave in, but I put a qualifier on it. I put the bill in a special place in my wallet and never spent it on myself. The first person or cause I ran into after I received the tip who was down and out for the moment became the beneficiary. I would use the money to make their day better. Sometimes it was a little gift for my wife. I took a few people to lunch; sometimes I dropped it in the collection plate or gave it to a good cause.

        Come to think of it I never reported it as income or a charitable contribution either one. I’m certain the government wouldn’t understand, so we just left it under the table.

        Rest in peace my old friend, you accomplished your goal. I never forgot you.

Dr. B

A ‘Yattch’ (a Yacht) A Pretty Girl, and a Million Dollars.” (Hold on to Hope)

March 26, 2010

        I got sidelined today with a stomach bug that’s been going around. Don’t worry; it’s already on the mend. I did manage to get in a half day at work, catch up on the paper work, and see a few folks sicker than me. Then it was on to the house.

        I don’t like being sick any more than the next guy, but I guess if a man never was sick he wouldn’t know what is means to be well. For a doc it is a good time to reflect on the plight of your patients.  Some of them are sick with terminal illness, and they feel bad every day.  Most of them handle it with a quiet dignity you can’t help but admire.

        I recall one old fellow who spent many of his last days in the hospital.  (This was before Hospice).  When I made rounds, I’d usually close with the question, “Is there anything else you need?”

        This man was frail, and all alone; his wife long since deceased.  He’d struggle to pull himself up in the bed and sit up a bit. “Yeah Doc, if you would, I’d like a ‘yattch,’ (a yacht) a pretty girl, and a million dollars.”        

        I’d reply, “I’m afraid I ain’t got that.”

         He’d look up, smile, and say, “Okay. You come back tomorrow anyway,” then curl up under the sheets.

        I’d straighten up his covers and say, “Well, I tell you brother, as soon as come across all that, I’m gonna let you know.”

        Really all I had to offer the man was morphine and kind words, but you just can’t take dreams away from anyone. Every day till he died I think he held out hope tomorrow would be a better day. I admire that simple grace.

        I’ve got the pretty girl, but the yattch and the million bucks are a ways off. Maybe tomorrow, who knows?

Dr. B

Thy Burdens are Greater than Mine

March 24, 2010

        The life of a country doctor is different.  There’s not a whit of glamour in what I do.  When you don’t wear a tie because it can get stuck in the wrong place as you try to screen a 350 pound human being for colon cancer and worry the distraction might cause you to miss a case; well you might be a country doctor. After near three decades in that routine when some fool on television in a suit pontificates about his expertise in primary care health care delivery it amuses me. 

        But overall, I just don’t see I have any real burdens, at least compared to my people.  When you see someone who has measured the distance from their ear lobes to the ground and is concerned they are three millimeters whop-sided it makes you realize people have all kinds of troubles. Many of them can’t be fixed by pills.  My broad shoulders are a bit stooped these days from years of burdens, but I carry on. In my prayers that’s what I am told to do.

        I saw a lady like that the other day. I had to take a break for a minute and play my office guitar. The song was “Thy Burden are Greater than Mine.” Her burdens were greater than mine for sure.  All I could do was listen and hope it helped a little.

Dr. B

No Announcements Yet and a Good Cause

March 22, 2010

        No announcements yet, but the team is at work on the graphic art for the book cover.  It won’t be long.

        I guess you might wonder why an old doctor would be so driven to tell this story. I suppose the main reason is that I gave my word to Indie. A promise is a promise.

        A risk management man told me my radar for trouble detection and how to avoid it was as good as anyone he’d even known. I learned a lot of it from Indie, and felt obligated to pass it on.

         Don’t worry.  It ain’t the end. I’m not a horse headed for the barn, but one pawing at the starting gate. I am gonna continue my quest to help people as a doc, but part of me is gonna do it by writing.  The “Mandolin Case” is only the start. They can’t make me go away.

        I’m gonna help people with my music too. Tonight I’m playing to raise awareness for the Abuse Prevention Council.  I am sad to tell you that even in wonderful Harvey County we have these problems.  If don’t know if I can stop some of that with a song, but I’m sure gonna try.

        Tell you what. Wherever you live, look up the folks who support these ladies and give a couple bucks to the cause. They often live in desperate circumstances and need our help to escape to a better life; one of grace and dignity every human being deserves. 

        Tell ’em some crazy mandolin picking country doctor sent you. If all us good folks stick together we might keep the bad guys at bay yet.

Dr. B

Aim Towards the Trouble And Fade Away

March 20, 2010

       They say golf has lessons for life.  If nothing else, it is a game where an old guy can hang with a young one if he has enough sense to keep his head on straight.

        We have one hole at River Run that looks straight forward. It isn’t.  You almost can’t hit it far enough right to get out-of-bounds. If you are in by even a foot, the slope will send the ball back towards the fairway.

        There’s only one problem.  If you hit a draw (right to left shot) and over-cook it even a little it will keep going left.  Eight times out of ten the ball will wind up in a deep gully on the left side of the fairway.

        Instead hit a power fade. (left to right)  It is a shot I learned from Martin Taylor. You take dead aim at the hazard and hit towards it. Just as the gully thinks it has lured you in, your ball will take a gentle turn to the right, hit in the fairway, and stop after a couple bounces.  It won’t run away with you ’cause it will be buffered by the same slope that would have led your hook to trouble. (As Lee Trevino once said, you can talk to a fade but a hook won’t listen.)

       I tell you this not to write about golf, but for two reasons. One is to say that golf is indeed much like life. You have to use your brain to negotiate your way around trouble. The other is so when the non-golfer reads “The Mandolin Case” they will understand some passages that might go right by the reader who has never read my blog.  If you’ve been loyal enough to read all my stuff before the book comes out, you deserve a leg up on the others. 

        Yep, golf does reflect life. When trouble comes your way, you have to look it right in the eye and stare it down. Then, like a matador with a cape take a step to the right just at the last moment. The bad guys will crash almost every time.

        At the same time, only let them get a glimpse. Don’t hit close enough for ’em to read the “Titelist” as it goes by. I hit a Martin Taylor fade the other day and wound up center cut. I walked by the gully; tipped my hat, smiled and bid it a good day.

       I’ll have to dodge that gully again and I wasn’t gonna piss it off too bad. No use cussing it if you can dodge it. 

        Oh, I almost forgot to tell you how to hit the shot.  Take your grip and down look at it on the club.  If more than 2 1/2 knuckles show on your left hand, turn it to the left every so slightly.  (Remember golf is like life; backwards. Turn your left hand to the left to hit the ball right, right?) Then set up with your feet pointed left of the sprinkler line.

        Golf’s much like dancing. Think rhythm, as is Lawrence Welk. (A one and a two and a…)  Then all you gotta do is swing along the line of your toes and imagine tossing a bucket of water out to the right and not back over your shoulder. 

        Trust me, the ball will curve from left to right.  Just don’t double cross it. That’s a no-no. That’ll put you deep in the gully and they’ll get you for that every time.

Dr. B

A House Call With Dr. M and Marley

March 17, 2010

        Years ago I had a favorite old patient who was confined to home. She had several medical problems that were irreversible, at least from a scientific perspective, and she didn’t want to leave home for any of her treatment.  (I can’t tell you the details, but she was correct in this assessment.)

        About  a year before she died she became comatose. I went out to the house, and considered every angle imaginable.  I couldn’t think of thing else to do.  It was lonely. Everyone looked to me for an answer.  I had none.

        Finally I said, “Let’s call Dr. M.  Maybe he can think of something.” Dr. M was one of my heros.  He was smart, but he also was kind, and he cared. He was this patient’s doctor for years, and had called me in when he retired.

        “Doc.  This is Tommy.” I explained the clinical circumstances. “Man, I can’t think of anything else to do.  I need someone with more gray hair than me, brother.”

        He came right out.  Doc looked over the situation for a while, and then sat down in a chair in the den.  Everyone gathered around, me included.  “Folks, he said. “I’ve heard out Dr. B and I’ve checked her out. I agree with him. There is nothing more we can do. We’re just gonna have to pray for a miracle.”

        And that is what we did.

        Two days later, the family called.  “Dr. B we have our miracle.” I hopped in the car and dashed out there.  Sure enough a patient who had been stone cold irreversibly comatose was her old self.

        “Good Lord have mercy Marley, we were worried sick.  How the heck did ya do it?

       She smiled.  “Son, you worry too much.  We’re all gonna meet our maker.  This was just a dress rehearsal so all you children could be ready when the real day comes. I don’t want you to take it hard when I’m gone; you’ve done all you can do.”

        One day it was no dress rehearsal.  There were no more miracles. She passed on. There were tears, but there also was tranquility.  She taught us to be ready. 

        It was fitting these two were patient and doctor together, ’cause they were two of the very best of these parts.

        Dr. M just died.  I cried.  He finally ran out of miracles. I wish I coulda known of some miracle for him. 

        He and Marley taught me so much. From them I learned we should do our best, but have tranquility, ’cause it truth it is all in God’s hands. 

        Still though I gotta admit the human in me wishes I was powerful enough to know of one more miracle for Dr. M, and Marley too.  I guess God decided it was time for them to rest and all I can do is accept it.

         Maybe my miracle for the day is that Dr. M and Marley taught me to understand all that. I’ll miss ’em both, but I’ll never forget their lessons.

Dr. B