Posted tagged ‘The Making of a Doctor’

Why I Became a Doc

August 4, 2008

        I’ve been on a doctor kick lately, and not the fiction writer one.  Y’all bear with me.  I’m gonna return to fiction with my next post.  (I know my agent will be happy- I get on these doctor tears and drive him crazy.

        Before I do that, I hope you will indulge me one last doctor post.  After this one, I’ll turn my writing efforts to fiction, both on the blog and to finish up the five times edited rough draft of my book.  But, before I get out of doctor mode, I’ve gotta tell you how I got into it to start with.

        When I was twelve I wanted to be a baseball player.  That career came to an end when I ran into  a guy named Don.  He had a great fastball I couldn’t hit.  Don mowed all the little leaguers down- he’d pitch no-hitter every other week or so.  I was lucky- he was on my team.  One day in practice I hit a double off the wall on him.  I retired from baseball soon after.  Don went on to pitch AAA ball for the Rangers, and even got in the big show as a reliever once or twice.  We are still friends to this day.

        Mama knew I was no ball player.  One summer she put me in a speed reading course.  Boy was I mad.  I still remember being cooped up in the basement of the Jr. High.  We didn’t have central air then, so we’d open the windows.  Outside you could hear the crickets chirp and the crack of a bat in the distance.  What kinda mama was that!?  Of course, she was right.  I had no idea at the time how much it would mean to be a good reader.

       Mama played the piano.  I guess that is where my music came from.  She put me in piano lessons, but I thought I was gonna be a ball player or a guitar picker, and wasn’t diligent with my study.  Mama was right again.  I ended up a fair mandolin player, but the piano is fundamental in music- I shoulda paid attention.  Mom also saw I was a bad homebody, and she was right about that too.  As I got into music, every professional I knew was on the road.  I wouldn’t a lasted.

        And there was golf.  My Dad got stated ’cause he thought it would be a good thing for us to do together, and it was.  When I’d hit one right, he’d say, “Son, you hit it like Arnie.”  Of course, I never hit one like Arnie in my life, but if your Dad says it you believe it, so I thought I could play.  One day, though, I realized when Jack Nicklaus was my age he had whupped every man in the state of Ohio.  It was all I could do to break 80.  The final blow came in the quarter finals of a local tournament.  I went up against a kid named Paul Stanley (the drummer for my first band, the Mystics) and he had me closed out by the 13th hole.  As I walked home it seemed Dad was right- maybe I’d better be a doctor.   Paul went on to become a staff pro for Titleist, and then made a fortune in gas futures.  He’s still a better golfer than me.

        Mom took me to the library every week, and I checked out all of the books they’d let me have, but I was not a serious student for a long time.  In fact until chemistry in high school, I would say I was not a student but a dreamer.  (Some of that persists today.)  My chemistry teacher was a sharp young fellow right out of college.  He told us if we didn’t study we’d fail.  Up till then I’d survived on my wits, but this man seemed serious.  I figured I’d better study until I found out what he was made of.  As it turned out, I made “A’s.”  It was the first time I knew it could be cool to be smart.  (The homecoming queen asked me to tutor her in chemistry- she was pretty darn good student and made a “B.”)

        My English teacher was not mean enough to deal with a bunch of rowdy boys, and I regret I didn’t study as hard in her class as I should have.  When you’re a kid no one can tell you a thing.  I wish I’d had a tougher character like mrschili, but the material was there for learning, and I have no one to blame but myself.  I’m still catching up.

        It was even worse in typing.  Our teacher was old.  We sat in the back of the class, and there was a window at ground level we’d sneak out of and go to Popeye’s store to drink Co-Colas and pick the country blues.  Popeye was a pal right up till his death.  When I came back to town he was one of my first patients.  To this day, I can’t type.  When you see those typos, it ain’t dyslexia- it was Popeye’s fault.  (No, it was mine.)

        In college I found my old chemistry skills came in handy, and made “A’s” in Organic.  Given I was a no talent bum in my other areas of expertise, medical school seemed like the right thing to do.  When I’d come home and go out to the fairgrounds with my Dad, all the little kids would come up and hug his pants legs.  It seemed he knew everyone, and everyone knew him.  I thought that was a good way to live, so I signed up for the gig with no more thought than that. 

        When I got to Medical School I found out I wasn’t so smart.  In the first two years I only a bit above average with the books.  As far as tests go, it was a fast crowd.  I was just a country boy, and the competition was far stiffer than any I’d ever been up against.  I was disappointed.  Not only did I not know anyone that smart as a kid, I never knew people that bright lived on planet Earth.  It was a wake up call.  I knew I would have to work hard.  I didn’t want to go through life and be average.  I’ll never forget my pal Tom Bailey.  Tom was so smart I asked the good Lord why I couldn’t be like that.  The reply:  “I wanted you to be smart enough to talk to Tom Bailey, but dumb enough to be a country doctor.”  I never questioned it again.

        In our third year we started the clinical rotations, and low and behold it all changed.  I found I could remember all the patients on the floor, and all about their problems.  What I read in the books jumped off the page as relevant to the patients on the service.  I forget very little of it.  

        Very soon, I became the patient’s confidant.  The attending would breeze through and make a few pronouncements.  After they’d leave I would sit at the bedside and watch T.V. with the patient and then answer their questions the best I could given my rudimentary stage of development at the time.  The faculty began to take notice.  I made my way to near the top of the class, and broke the 90th percentile on the clinical part of National Boards.  It was my first top shelf score in medicine, and I got most of the questions right because I knew my patients and read about them.  That pattern still persists today.  I have to give my patients credit for much of what I know- they taught me.  In my last year of residency the director asked me to look after his best friend who had become quite ill.  I figured I must be getting there.  He could have pick of anyone.

        To this day, medicine has been an easy business for me.  All I have to do is ask the patient- they tell me what was wrong almost every time.  (Sometimes I don’t listen as well as I should and I regret it every time.)  Yeah, insurance companies and government get in the way, but they are only a pesky nuisance.  With minimal effort they can be neutralized- they don’t know the patients and therefore are at a hopeless disadvantage when they try to interfere.  (More on that in some of my books)

        The rest of my life has been a walk in the park, and I feel like I never did go to work.  It is not hyperbole to say I love my patients- not like I love my wife and kids, but a lot.  It is a privilege to take care of them and I am still very serious about it. 

        Along the way there were two historic compliments in medicine I cling to.  One was an elderly black lady who had worked in our home some when I was a kid.  She called and asked if I would be her doctor.

         I said, “Why Georgia, after all you did for me as a kid, you know I’d be honored to look after you.”

        “You honored?  Why honey, in this town you’s standing right beside Dr. Boykins Douglas.”  (our local internist/cardiologist, a fine doc)  Douglas is a doctor’s doctor, and my personal physician, so I took that as quite a compliment.  

         The other was from my daughter who said I was better suited for my job than any adult human being she ever met, and that I was her hero.  On the days when I wonder if I got much done on earth, that one sustains me.

        After all these years as a doc, you might wonder why in the world I think I can become a writer, too.  (I get a lot of help from my agent and my blog buddies.)  There are times I wonder too, but it is one last thing I have to do while here.  When the book comes out, I believe the folks who started out on the blog with me will understand why.

        I just finished Core Content Review, a major Family Doc update, so I’m going to take a few months to write hard, and try to finish the novel I’ve been at work on for the last three or four years.  I’ll post my progress on the blog.  Y’all have stuck with me on the doctor and bluegrass picker travels, I hope you will hang in there for the writer journey as well.  I’m gonna try to both entertain you and offer a ring-side seat for the doctor business.  I promise to show you the medical world, at least the way I see it.

        So on to fiction.  One thing though, I’ll still be a doctor first.  If it weren’t for the guidance of my agent, I don’t think my books would ever see the light of day.  However, he once told me he could teach someone to write, but he couldn’t teach a good story.  “And you, Dr. Bibey,”  he said, “have a good story.”

        I hope he’s right, ’cause mine is all I’ve got.

Dr. B