North Carolina Our State Magazine has been quite attentive of bluegrass and its constituants over the last few years. They have included reviews of my book The Mandolin Case, Dr. Temple’s 30 year career as a physician and semi-professional bluegrass musician, some nice coverage of Tommy Edwards of Bluegrass Experience fame, and have kept up with other bluegrass ongoing activities in the state. Please check their archives for these articles. I’ve been around the music a long time and find them historically accurate and quite informative. Thank you to North Carolina Our State Magazine for your insistence on excellent coverage of the Arts in North Carolina, including bluegrass music.
Archive for the ‘short stories’ category
Before we get into an approach to chronic illness, I gotta tell you this story.
And this time, I’m gonna give you the disclaimer first. I am not making fun of my patients. I respect their right to their opinion and try to work with them however I can.
As you get older you care for them even more than when you were young. Of course, it ain’t quite the same intensity as you feel for your wife and children, but nonetheless, it is true to say you develop a genuine affection for them, especially the ones who have been with you for many years. It is a lot harder for me to deal with death than it was as a young doc. In residency, I liked my patients, but after twenty-five years, the bond is much stronger.
And, I am not poking fun at any dreadful disease process. I hate it when people come down with things that can’t be fixed. You know the odds are high their life will undergo permanent change, and not for the best.
So, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but at the same time patients sometimes do the dang-est things. This is one of those stories. You could either get mad or laugh, and I try to choose the latter.
You know those little rolling stools the doc uses to slide around in the exam room? They are necessary for much of our work, and there are some exams I about can’t do without them.
For some reason I have had a time keeping my folks off those seats. They aren’t safe, and children and the elderly can fall off. We’ve never had anyone seriously injured, but my observation is the very ones who sit on them are often those with the highest probability of hip fracture.
Our exam room floors were the sterile linoleum type. They were easy to clean, but I became concerned someone would get hurt when they fell. When the nurse brought the patient to the room they would direct them to the proper chair, but once you are out of the room for even a minute, people would get restless and move around.
One year I went on an all-out campaign to keep everyone off the rolling stools. It was a miserable failure. I went on for months, and kept up-ing the ante. We started with signs in the waiting room, then the exam rooms, and then attached them on the top of the stool itself. It reached the point where the seats were plastered with stickers and looked about like my mandolin case, which sports bumper stickers from our many travels and shows. We came up with a variety of slogans.
“DO NOT SIT HERE.”
“FOR DR. BIBEY ONLY.”
And finally, “WARNING: THIS SEAT MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH! DO NOT SIT HERE!”
It was to no avail. No matter what I did, I’d come in the room, and some little lady would be seated on the rolling stool. At times, we’d hear a loud noise, and rush into the room to find someone had fallen off.
I tried lectures, and came off as arrogant. When my efforts to claim possession became too adamant, I sounded egotistical. I guess it came out like, “How dare any other human sit in ‘my’ seat.” I didn’t mean it that way. I became discouraged.
I did get two responses, though. The first was from one of my old teachers. I saw most of my old grade school teachers for years, though most have now gone on. One I am especially proud of just crossed the century mark. Many of them look at me like they might pop my knuckles with a ruler if I don’t behave. I see several from my middle school years. I don’t know why anyone who remembers me from middle school would choose me as Doc, but they do. Perhaps it is dementia. Bless their hearts- what a horrible disease.
The first response I got was from one of those former middle school teachers. I came in the room, and there she was on the rolling stool, propped up against the wall. “Young man, you are going to have to do something about these seats. They are terribly unstable.”
I helped her to her feet, and pointed out the signs plastered all over the seat.
She peered at the messages over the half-glasses tethered around her neck, and then responded. “Well, I didn’t see that.”
My second response was from a man. When I came in the exam room, he was seated in the chair for the patients, and the rolling chair was parked in the opposite corner of the room. He could not have distanced himself any further without leaving the room.
“Doc, say them chairs are bad for your health?”
“Yes. Yes sir, they are.” I was pleased. My plan was taking hold.
The patient looked around, and lowered his voice like folks do when they have a personal question. “Doc, some of dem AIDS patients been sitting in them chairs?”
(My wife read this and said the title of this post should be “The Dumb *^^ Blues.” She has a way of getting to the bottom of things.)
I never brought up the issue again. I took down all my signs, called off the campaign, and asked Dr. Lucas, Lynn O’Carroll and Myrd to pick us out some carpet for the exam rooms. They had said for some time we needed to re-decorate and it seemed like the right time.
The carpet makes the work a bit harder for the cleaning crew, but at least now when folks fall off my rolling stool, it doesn’t sound so bad, and the floor isn’t as hard when they hit. Still no broken bones, too, and I think we’ve improved our odds.
So much for my skills as an educator. How in the world do you teachers keep a whole class in line?
Today was our annual Christmas Pageant at Harnett Methodist. It is a time honored tradition, much like yours I’m sure, where all the kids are shepherds and camels and such. I debated on whether to write this up or not ’cause my agent said it was like asking folks to watch my home movies, but then I found out he was out of the country in Scotland and the only guy I know over there is Dr. Bob so I’m gonna take a chance he won’t see this one.
The reason the tradition it is so important is the kids. My young’uns were in it from the get-go, and started out as donkeys, but worked their way up through the ranks. By the time they finished Confirmation Class their last year of Middle School, they made Mary and Joseph.
I remember it well, ’cause I was out in the driveway getting them to the car, and someone came up in a pickup truck and wanted me to look at his wife’s emergency rash, and Tommy, Jr. dang near got hit ’cause that head gear drooped down around his eyes and he couldn’t see too good. My Marie was dressed as a perfect Mary, but she got lost in the moment and hollered out, “Great Gawd-A’Mighty Tommy- Watch Out!” It wasn’t very becoming of her role, but I got over it quick ’cause at least Tommy didn’t get run over. Besides, it was my fault she’d say such a thing, ’cause she heard it at the Bomb Shelter the week before, and it wasn’t fitting to take such a young lady down there when Wild Bill was in town.
So, I asked the lady and her husband a few questions and once I was certain she didn’t have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (right locale- wrong time of year) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (the rash was localized, and her skin wasn’t sloughing off) or sepsis, (no fever, chills or vomiking as they say around here) I gave her a script for some FEP cream (that means For Every Purpose) and told her to come in first of the week. After the curb service consult (we still do curb service even though there is not an ICD9 code for it- that is another story) we went on to the Church House. I know you think I am making this up, but this is how is to be a doc in a small town.
Well anyway, Marie and Tommy made a wonderful Mary and Joseph, and I’ve still got the home movies if you ever want to see ‘em.
The kids today did good too, and I think I enjoyed it so much because it reminded me of the old days with mine, especially the little girl that played the Donkey.
The only adult in the whole pageant today was Miss Marilyn on the piano accompaniment, who plays the keys in our Praise Band. When she missed her cue nine year old Dorothy, little cherub that she is, turned around and directed her to “Hit it Marilyn,” and then those children nailed “Little Town of Bethlehem” like seasoned stage pros. Before too long, I’m gonna be recruiting some of them to sing with Neuse River- they sing with such attitude.
My all time favorite pageant was not when my Marie was Mary, though. That pick-up truck that about hit Tommy Jr. soured me on that one a bit. The year Marie was the humble donkey still ranks as my favorite. She sang “I am the Donkey, Shaggy and Brown,” and had on a suit with ears that kept flopping down in her face. She kept having to brush those donkey ears out of the way, but in the bluegrass way, never missed a note, and stayed on pitch the whole tune.
Of course, we had it on VCR and watched it until Marie was so sick of it she couldn’t take it anymore, and made us put it up.
Now that she’s gone off to school, I get it out and watch it every year. In fact, last December Marfar had gone to do some shopping and I was off, but there wasn’t any picking going on and it was way too cold for golf.
Well, me and Miss Violet, the lady who helps us on Wednesdays, got to watching that tape, and when my Marfar came home we were were sitting on the couch watching little Marie sing “I am the Donkey.” Poor Violet was just a squalling, but I held up pretty good- my contact solution musta gone bad, but I got through it.
When it comes to your kids, docs are just like everyone else, so I appreciate your indulgence for today’s post- just don’t tell my agent you watched one of my home movies. I’ll get back to doctor and music stories in short order.
And, I tell you what. I’m gonna do just like every year and watch “A Wonderful Life” and that tape of my Marie as a donkey again just as soon as I get some better contact lens solution- right about this time of year that stuff goes against my eyes and makes ‘em water. I’m sure that’s what it is- I am a man of science, you know.
I had a patient in residency with a most unusual name. My standard practice is to obscure folk’s identity, but since this was decades ago, and he was 75 then, I guess it is not too bad a HIPAA violation to tell you his full name- Delano I. Dentifiey. He went by D.
Back in those days the homeless could come see us interns for free (it may have been the origin of the cliche you get what you pay for) and D was was a regular patient of mine.
D was beyond humble. He was poor, and schizophrenic, but he was appreciative, and we got along. One time he came in with a rapidly growing mole on his face, and wanted me to take it off.
I tried to explain. “Come on, D. That thing looks bad- I think you ought to see the Derm boys or maybe even the plastic guys.”
D gave me his usual blank stare, and would only grunt, and say, “You my doctor.”
I brought in the George Mooney, the Chief Resident, for a second opinion, but D went catatonic on him, and wouldn’t say a word.
We talked it over, and George wanted me to press on. “D’s right, Doc” he said. “You’re his doc. He isn’t going to let anyone else do it.”
Well, we got D to scrawl an “X” on the sign here line, perhaps the worst excuse for informed consent ever, except I did tell him I didn’t have the proper training for the job. I draped him the best I could (D was scared of being covered up) to keep a sterile field, then proceeded with a piece of minor surgery that was well intended, but inept nonetheless.
Sure enough, the pathology was squamous cell carcinoma, but the margins were clear. I was ecstatic. I’d cured him!
The joy was short lived, though. My nice surgical work quickly became as mess, and my best efforts to patch him up failed. He was rid of his cancer, but try as I might, he was going to have a big scar.
One day a big plastic man was in to give us a lecture, and someone told him D was on the schedule, and everyone had to go look at my disaster. Well, in front of the whole residency program, that Professor proceeded to tell everyone how many different ways the procedure could have done better. He said there was no choice now but to let it granulate in by secondary intention. (Ie, the way nature would heal it up if you didn’t have nothing to do with it.)
I was a good resident, and made Chief my last year, but on that day, and in the weeks that followed, I was a regular medical Charlie Brown. I heard it in the hallways- “Did you see that case Bibey did? What a wreck!”
D was unfazed. He came to the clinic every week, brought his knitting, and patiently waited. (D was the ultimate “patient” I tell you.)
“I’m sorry D. I didn’t know it would take this long to heal.” I apologized.
“You my doc.”
I thought D’s wound would never heal, but by the start of my second year it did, and the scar didn’t look too bad, either. D never complained about my doctoring and stuck with me to the end of the program. When I left to go back home to N.C., we exchanged gifts. D gave me some of his knitting, and I gave him some pants and a sweater, and told him to make sure to check in at the shelter come winter.
To this day, I remember the lessons D taught me. I only take off the most minor facial lesions, and then only when the patient fully understands. After explaining I could leave a scar, and they might lose a point in their next beauty contest, one old farmer said, “That’s O.K. Doc, I gave those up years ago.”
The bigger lesson was D’s faith, not so much in his Doc, but the simple faith in the healing relationship we all should have in the doctor business, was rewarded. There is a lot more to healing than pills and doctors, and D, with his humble educational background, taught me that. The most important lesson for me was that the patient is everything- our reason for being, and without them we might as well go to the house. I never forgot D’s faith in me, undeserving as it may be.
If D is still alive, he is very old. Should you ever be in a big town in Tennessee with a famous Medical Center, and run into a homeless guy with a worn out pair of white doctor intern pants, and the inside label reads “Dr. Tommy Bibey” in perma-marker, you’ll know it’s D. Whether anyone notices that little scar on his face or not, I am proud for them to know he was my patient.
Well folks, I’m off from doctoring for a couple days, and it is a busy music weekend in the County. Friday night is the annual Habitat for Humanity gig, a worthy cause if there ever was one, and we have our office Christmas party on Saturday, which is just a big jam session. Sunday it is on to the Nursing Home, and the Moose will sing “Christmas Time’s a Coming” just like Bill Munroe.
About ten years ago we had a World Tour T-shirt, which listed our venues at the Fair, the Ayden tractor pull, the Nursing Home, the School House, and other local favorites. The shirt went over real big, and when Moose wore it at the beach, some young lady stopped him (this is always happening to the Moose) and asked him where she could hear Neuse River play, so for a while there we were world famous all throughout the County.
I know ’bout our music pretty good, but it occurred to me I had stayed so busy as a doc and picking around here that my exposure to the music has been limited to our version, what I hear from the groups touring through, and from my good fortune to know Darrell, who is the only one in our crowd to turn pro. As I get older, I hope I might travel more and broaden my perspective. ‘Bout all I have been exposed to is Southern bluegrass, and it’s great, but I often wonder what the music is like in other parts of the country.
I do know that guys like Peter Rowan, Gris, and Bill Keith were all from up north, and contributed mightily. Behind the scenes, some folks grumbled about “Yankee picking” but I never understood that. They sounded pretty good to me. Bill Monroe was a southern guru, and he didn’t deride it one bit- he not only embraced it, he hired them all!
Well, I want everyone to know that here in the County, the bluegrass brethren is always welcome, regardless of race, color, creed, social status, religious denomination or anything else. All the have to do is want to pick some bluegrass music, and they’ll get along. Heck, they don’t even have to do that, all they gotta do is give us the freedom to play.
You see, here in the County, and I suspect everywhere else, based on how the bluegrass folks from other parts of the country treat me, bluegrass is ’bout like that Lake Woebegone Mr. Keillor talks about, where ugly things like prejudice don’t exist.
I mean, here in the County we are a bit isolated, and I admit folks can sometimes be wary of newcomers, but if they are good folks I’m proud to say they get treated like family.
One day a new fellow came to town to look me up, and he wanted to pick some bluegrass music. He stopped at the Gulf station, rolled down his window, and asked if anyone knew that Doctor who played bluegrass music, and the man at the gas station said, “You talking ’bout Dr. Bibey? You sick?”
“Oh, no. Came down from the mountains and wanted to play some music.”
The man at the service station looked at his watch. “Better get on over to his office. He’ll be leaving pretty soon. All dem Docs play golf on Wednesday, you know.”
The gentleman arrived right about when I was getting ready to leave for the day, and explained he had come down from the mountains. Only thing was he didn’t talk like Jake, the only mountain man I knew. I believe he said he was from some Green Mountains we’d never heard of- some place far away like New Hampshire or something like that. Well, it made no difference to me.
“Whatcha toting there?”
“Martin. Any jamming happening?”
“Yeah, boy. Going to the Bomb Shelter tonight. Wanna go?”
The man had never heard of the Bomb Shelter, but it turns out I had come highly recommended to him, and he trusted my judgment. We went over to the County Line for lunch, and I called Darrell and the Moose to tell ‘em to round up the usual suspects. If company is in you try to show ‘em a good time, you know.
Well, when we got there, most of the boys didn’t know what to make of it, and a couple of ‘em weren’t sure they wanted to pick with the man. “Can he cut the gig?” one asked. Jake was in town that night, and he was extra worried. He was a real mountain man, and sometimes they take to strangers right slow.
Moose knew better. “See that guitar, Doc? It’s bout half wore around the sound hole, and it’s got a lot of cigarette burns. That man can play. We’d better take a chance on him.”
Jake stood back in the corner to wait and see as the man strapped on his Martin. Well, Moose was ‘xactly right- that old boy just wore that guitar out. He hadn’t played but one bar, and Jake jumped right in the thick of it, and was a sawing away on the fiddle. We played deep into the night, and it was extra good- the man could cut the gig.
He was just like us. Turned out he had done a stint with the Gibson Brothers, and I was shocked to find out they was from upstate New York. I thought it was all pavement up there, but those boys sounded just like they’d grown up on the farm in Kentucky.
Well, about 2:00 I had to split, ’cause I had to turn back into a doctor, but the boys stayed on to play a few last good’uns. Moose told me later when me and the man left, Jake strung together more consecutive words than we’d ever heard him utter. “Lawd have mercy boys, didja ever hear anything like that? I’d don’t care if he does talk funny, we need to get him to pick more often. I wonder if Doc knows any more of dem Yankee Pickers?”
I figure I need to study up on those Yankee pickers, too. I’d been around a while and had never heard one, ‘cept on records, and I didn’t know they were that good either.
I hear a lot of talk about exactly what bluegrass is, and sometimes even some arguing on the subject. Well, I don’t know about y’all, but to me I don’t care where a man is from. If he sings an honest song about real people trying to live decent lives in a nonsensical world, then he’s welcome in my circle.
I’ve already heard from a fair number of folks from up North, so today I wanted to officially welcome you to this decidedly southern site. To paraphrase the golf folks, if you know bluegrass you are my friend. Part of my motivation for writing all this is to spread the bluegrass gospel. It ain’t as important as the real Gospel, but is is important- if for no other reason when I go to Detroit I need to know who to pick with. So, keep on picking, and I’ll see you out on the bluegrass road.
Well, as we have said, them bluegrass people are thick as thieves, and it’s even true for the bluegrass animals. I got a call from a lady the other day who wondered if we would adopt her Sun Conure bird. Given its’ name was Sassy Scruggs, it was a little hard to say no. The woman was moving to the Windy City, and gonna be in a big condo where they wouldn’t allow animals, and besides, conures are tropical birds, and the climate didn’t exactly suit their clothes as the song says. And too, the woman wanted the bird to have a bluegrass home, and she knew I was a player, ’cause she had seen Neuse River on the local cable T.V. station last winter when they ran out of news.
As far as me, I don’t care all that much for birds, but I guess the lady knew my wife was a local expert on bird raising, given that she (my wife that is) half raised me. And too, it might be ’cause we already had a Jen Day conure, which is a close cousin to the Sun variety, so the ladies decided the whole situation was meant to be.
We didn’t have to think it over long anyway. My wife wanted the bird to have a good home, and I like to see my wife happy, so it was all good. There was more to it than that, too. Our bird is a male named Sammy- Bush or Shelor depending on whether a mandolin or banjo player might be coming to dinner. Sammy and Sassy; we figured it would be a good fit.
When the lady brought that little conure over to the office I had to ask if she was any kin to Earl, and she wasn’t. I did know to ooh and aah over the bird, though. (Hint to the men folks here- if you are around a group of office women and don’t know what to say in this situation, just smile and say, “Isn’t she precious?”) This always goes over good.
Matter of fact, when I took the bird home, that’s the first thing my wife said, and I knew to agree, even though I wasn’t exactly sure why. It is a good home, though. The bird needed a bluegrass habitat, and she and Sammy get along famously.
Lynn O’Carroll at the office said she hopes they’ll conjure up a conure, and if they do she wants first dibs. We get to name it, though. If is a girl, I’m voting for Alison and my wife likes Vince if it’s a boy. (He was bluegrass before he was country.) One thing about it, though- it won’t be a Reno or a Ralph. I don’t know that much about birds, but it seemed two banjo players in one house was a plenty, even if they don’t chew tobacco.
My wife thought it was precious.
This is a fiction forum, and does not discuss any “real” events. Specific discussion of a patient’s clinical circumstances is a violation of my personal ethical code, and was long before anyone dreamed up HIPAA, so anything I write regarding patient encounters, while based on my life experience, has been “doctored” significantly.
However, this post deviates from that standard format. While very close to the actual events, it isn’t a HIPAA violation, though, because it is my own case. I write it so you can get inside Doc’s head, but also for educational purposes. I like to think the story might stick, and one of my readers might benefit someday from the heads up on this particular diagnosis.
“Through the Eyes of a Country Doctor”
Before I start, I’m gonna go ahead and tell you the moral of the story. If you don’t get anything else, please realize we docs are just as human as anyone else. Still, we have a perspective on things folks should not ignore, so you’ll just have to listen for a moment. Now, that don’t make me one bit better than anyone else. When I drive my car into my mechanic’s shop, he often figures out what is wrong in two minutes about an issue I have struggled for days to get a handle on it. But as far as Country Doctoring, well, you don’t have to listen, but I would advise you consider my story.
I was at a music festival digging my favorite bluegrass band, and thought I had a smudge on the bottom of my sunglasses. It didn’t want to clear up, but we were not around any soap and water and I couldn’t clean off my glasses. It was getting on towards dark-thirty, and in the lower light of dusk, I thought it went away. I didn’t think much of it.
Sunday I woke up and at first thought some swelling of my lower eyelid was in the way, but when I would pull the lid aside the faint smudge in my lower visual field didn’t clear. I had a feeling I knew where this was going. There didn’t seem to be much change through the day, but I put in a call first thing Monday morning to my ophthalmologist, who had done my cataract surgery a few years back.
“Hey, Em. Dr. Oracle in?”
“Yes sir, what’s up?”
“See if he can check me today. Tell him I’ve got a right inferior nasal field deficit- stable for forty-eight hours.”
She wasn’t gone long. “Can you be here at 2:00?”
“Sure thing.” At least the timing was fortuitous. My afternoon office schedule had already been cleared off, as it was the day of the once a year company picnic. I didn’t want to alarm everyone, so I just said I had an eye appointment I’d forgotten. I gathered up my office guitar, and told them I’d see them at the picnic and play a few tunes. Deep down inside I suspected it would serve as my pacifier for the day.
I was a work in, and these were busy guys, so I knew I’d have to wait a while. I pulled my guitar out and got off to a corner, so as not to bother anyone, but an interesting thing happened. As I played, tranquility set it, not only for me but the staff, and the patients who were waiting.
One little girl was especially entranced, and I ran through a number of tunes for her. They called me back, and I bid her farewell. I wondered about her diagnosis, hoped she was just a kid trying to talk her folks into contacts, and said a quick prayer she didn’t have anything bad; she seemed a nice kid.
Once in the exam room, I pulled the guitar out of the case, and contemplated my diagnostic possibilities as I played. I could think of dozens, and several I’d rather not have. Hm. I had seen a few patients like this who had an ocular melanoma- that didn’t sound so good. I liked the idea of posterior capsule clouding, but I had already gone through a post surgery laser to clear that up. I wasn’t an eye surgeon, but my experience was this generally wasn’t something that was recurrent. Most likely this was a small retinal tear in the top of my eyeball, and given the other possibilities, I made up my mind that would not be a hard diagnosis to accept.
Dr. Oracle came in and went through the drill. Drops, the “blue light special” (checking for glaucoma) then the old eye chart. Doc had rendered me 20/20 with cataract surgery, but prior to that I had a long history going back to a myopic childhood, so I was quick to rip through the memorized lines. He pulled out the extra bright retina scope, and in short order, had the diagnosis.
“Peripheral retinal tear, superior segment. You need to stay, the retina man is in the house.”
“NAP, Doc. (Not a problem.) You think it’ll be O.K.?”
He contemplated an answer. I could tell he sure wanted it to be, but didn’t have enough data yet- it wasn’t a fair question. I answered it for him. “Hey, you guys have pulled me through the fire twice- I ain’t worried. All we can do is our best, and I have faith everything will be O.K.” I could see him breathe a sigh of relief- docs hate to promise what they can’t guarantee, and yet want to offer hope- it is a fine line to walk at times.
The retina man, Dr. Smith, came in. Was he ever young. I remember a favorite patient thinking the new surgeon couldn’t be old enough to take out his appendix. I had a devil of a time convincing him as his Family Doc I wasn’t the right man for the job. Smith went through his routine, and a few more tests, and gave the good and bad news.
“As far as retinal tears go, this one is pretty good.” I know most patients hate to hear a hole in eye ball is good, but as a doc I followed, and agreed. He went on. “The superiors are easier to fix, but over time gravity will work on it. Not much choice but to fix it. Your prognosis is good right now, but if it works its way to the macula it is a different animal. Much harder to fix then.”
He discussed his schedule with his tech, then outlined my options. “It can probably wait a day, but the OR schedule is tight tomorrow. We would go on after a vascular case, and they can be unpredictable as to what time we might go. When did you last eat?”
“Dang it, I had a hot dog at 1:00. ” What was I thinking? Man, you’re a doc, you saw it coming, why didn’t you stay NPO?
“How do you feel about doing it under local? I can get a slot a Grace (the surgery center in the next town over) tonight.”
Sounded like saving Grace to me. I had my cataracts done under local, so it wasn’t an unknown. Hm. Here I’d known this guy fifteen minutes, and I was turning over the future of my right eye to him on the spot. Dr. Oracle recommended him, and he had saved me twice. I trusted him with all my personal and professional being. I contemplated a minute. The way I saw it, I could get a second and third opinion, but by the time I did that I’d have several good opinions and one blind eye. “Let’s go for it.” I sounded resolute, and was. My vision was still clear, and I didn’t see any other reasonable options.
Well, my wife drove me over to Grace, and everyone was very nice, and they didn’t even know I was a doc at first. Someone found out, and then they got kinda nervous, but I told ‘em my eyeballs warn’t no different than any other human being, and besides they had been kind before they figured out who I was, and that was more than enough for me.
Being awake for your eye surgery has its advantages. I could tell from the banter and the light mood Dr. Smith was satisfied about the progress. I told a few jokes, and we discussed guitars, but I kept the conversation to small talk- I didn’t want to distract him. When he asked for the Vicryl, I knew he was closing. After he got a stitch in, I told him I wasn’t scared of losing an eye- I could always cash in my disability and hit the road with a black patch and a new stage persona. I could sense his relief through the surgical drapes. The thought of a disabled colleague, and one with a microphone no less, was not very consoling. My recommendation to patients is not to say such things until the procedure is completed.
After it was all over, my vision came all the way back to 20/20. Thanks to Drs. Oracle, Smith and company, I am an ocular cat with nine lives. When I was growing up in a little N.C. town, we did not even have an ophthalmologist, much less a retina specialist who could do such fancy things on short notice. Nowadays, in little towns all across the country, people are able to resume their lives with minimal disruption over a diagnosis that would have disabled them just a few decades ago. I am just a country doc, but got a state of the art procedure as good as anything the President could get. I am lucky, in that I have good insurance, but for less out of pocket than the price of a new guitar, I got a new eye. I don’t buy many guitars- my old Martin does fine, but generally speaking you can’t buy an eye for any price. It seemed more than reasonable to me.
By the way, I hope that little girl was O.K. She was a sweetie.
Post Script: Not long after all this happened, I saw a patient who lost most of the sight in her left eye years ago. She began to have similar symptoms, but just thought she needed new glasses and put off an appointment. She got some vision back, but it was far from a perfect outcome. There are no guarantees in medicine, but I hope by posting this story, one of my readers is able to recognize the symptoms earlier, and have a chance at a better result.