No. of Recommendations: 72
every word that follows is true, written for me and rememberence. I have no new stock thoughts and so I thought I'd write this down

I got a new Echocardiography textbook this week. One of the authors was a fellow resident many years ago , he's done well. It makes me question my decision to come home and be a small town doctor. It makes me wonder if I could have been a contender... and I think back to a day many years ago. I'd been back home for about three months and I was really questioning my decision to come back to a small backwater town.

It was a Saturday evening and the sun was going down. I got a frantic call from this woman well known to me. She demanded I meet her at the hospital because Daddy Bill was having a stroke. Daddy Bill was her father and was almost 85. He, his sons, and his grandsons had just returned from an overnight duck hunt. As the assembled family sat down for the evening meal, Daddy Bill's face began to shrink and contort and it looked like some white dusting appeared over his face as if some netherworld head hunter had sprinkled pixie dust on him and his whole head was shrinking. As his entire family watched this transformation, Daddy Bill made a most curious exclamation ... he said "I don't know why ... but I feel like whistling." And whistle is what he did. He started whistling, cliche of cliches, he started whistling Dixie. It was here that his excited frantic daughter called me. I told them to meet me at the hospital with all his medicines. We didn't even have an emergency room back then. There were two hospital rooms set aside for "emergencies" and that is were we conducted business. I went to the hospital wondering why I wasn't still at the Mayo Clinic finishing a fellowship... In the room I went to see my own grandfather's old friend, Daddy Bill. There, with his family gathered round was the strangest looking Daddy Bill I'd ever seen. His face was shriveled and puckered like a prune. Other than that he was fine. His daughter, in her fear and haste, had scooped all the medicines in the cabinet into a bag and I looked through them. As I searched, I came out with a jar of some stuff labeled "Alum." When I pulled it out of the bag "Grandma Bill" let out a gasp and started fumbling with her purse, mumbling, tearing up, and looking at the sky. She was clearly distraught and after some conversation we had to excuse every family member from the room. Through tears and much huffing and puffing Mrs Grandma Bill told us she made a sink of Alum "for personal use," forgotten about it ... and apparently Daddy Bill had walked into the bathroom and seen a clean bowl of water ... waste not want not ... he used it to wash his face for supper. Here's where a kind older nurse pulled me aside. She explained that alum was used as a "personal wash" by women who want to "tighten up" old worn body parts for temporary use. With the mystery of the "shrinking head stroke" solved, I reassured the family (without the details) and dismissed Mrs and Mr Daddy Bill to the house. As Mr Bill walked out, he grabbed the bottle of Alum out of my hand, winked, and out the door he went. I turned to the nurse and said "I'm too young to be a doctor" and wondered how I was supposed to shake grandma Bill's hand at church without laughing.

I don't know why, but I just feel like whistling

As I walked out of the hospital to go home I was met by an acquaintance, a black gentlemen well known to me. This was an impressive man, full of intelligence, a local leader in the civil rights movement in the best tradition of Martin Luther King, and the owner of a successful hardware store... a fair accomplishment in small town Mississippi of many years ago. I took care of his terminally ill father who was in his 90's. He told me his father was gravely ill and could I come see him. The other doctors in town made house calls ... and they shamed me into the same when I first arrived ... so I made house calls, still do. BUT, house calls to black families were a bit unusual except for Dr Lott... my hero, and a story I should tell ... but anyway, I grabbed my housecall bag (yup, still have one) and I got into Mr David's car. One of the nicest southern traditions I know is the one of calling your elders by Mr or Mrs and then their first name... Mr Bill, Mr David, etc... it shows familiarity and respect at the same time. I got in Mr David's car and off we went into the southern night. There are real live alligator infested swamps right outside of town and the night in rural Mississippi can get very very dark with gravel roads and Spanish moss and alligators and riding in cars with black men into the night in civil rights Mississippi and I started thinking about my judgment. We pulled into a long gravel country driveway and there must have been 50-60 cars around this old house. Into the house we walked to a silent crowd of black faces staring at me and I started getting very nervous. I was ushered into a back room where the old man lay on a bed. He had terminal cancer and was now clearly in heart failure
"we should get him to the hospital" I said
his son replied that he didn't want to die in a hospital. OK, I said, and I sat on the bed and checked him. I reached into my bag and got a vial of lasix and mixed 20 mgm of lasix with 2 mgm of morphine (for the doctors... I no longer carry any of this but back then ... that and more). With 20 people watching me in this small room I drew this up into a syringe and after explained that the shot would help his comfort and breathing... I put it into a vein and slowly, with great care, squeezed it in. With a pinch of showmanship I sort of held the syringe up after I finished. As I held pressure on the wound ... holding syringe high ... the old man took a deep breath, let it out, and died..... Boom. No struggle, no agonal breaths, nothing ... and I stared in fearful disbelief ... and I could literally feel drops of sweat being squeezed out of every pore in my body ... and I could not take my eyes off the old man.... except out of the corner of my eye... it looked like the syringe was taking on the appearance of a gun. As I stared a frozen stare ... from the back of the room I heard a soft voice say "lord.... didn't he kill him fast"

There was no need for CPR out in the woods and he had terminal cancer ... tears of fear staring welling up in my eyes ... and I turned to the room and said "I wish I could have gotten here sooner" and Mr David stepped forward and hugged me and told ME to not be upset, his father was in a better place. Mr David saw my wet eyes and mistook tears of fear for sadness. So did the rest of the room and they started hugging me and thanking me for my kindness and willingness to come ... and "we" needed to go break the news to grandma ... grandma? Yup, grandma was in a room down the hall and would I come break the news to her ... in for a nickel in for a dime, thinks I.... and down the hall we go deeper and darker into the bowels of this house. The door opened and there was grandma in a bed. She looked worse than grandpa and he was dead. The first thing I thought when I saw her was... "no matter what happens, don't give her a shot!". And I sat at the bedside and I held her hand and gave the news and silent tears fell down her cheeks and there was no noise but sniffs and quiet crying behind me. After a few moments ... wishing only to leave... I tried to draw this meeting to a conclusion by suggesting we have a prayer. When I said that every head bowed ... and I looked for the "prayer" and it was me. I thought "this is bullsh*t!... I'm a doctor, I'm not a prayer ... and I should be writing a research paper at the Mayo Clinic right now..." but I was well steeped in the old time religion and so I bowed my head ... and I first said a silent personal prayer... I prayed "Dear Lord ... please get me out of this house before this old lady dies" and then I opened my mouth and prayed.

When I was a child, I was in the church every time the doors were open. On reaching adulthood I considered that I was sort of given "early release for time served" from organized religion with only occasional contact with God's parole officers on a Sunday morning or three per month. But I knew how to pray and pray I did. When I was done praying... I opened my eyes and saw nothing but grateful friends. There was no black and no white ... just the grateful family of an old man shown respect and kindness ... and I started making my way to the door. It took forever. Hand shakes and pats on the back and offers of food and drink and thankyous.... and the door opened in front of me and in walked Bishop Elijah Williams ... and my escape was foiled.

The Bishop was a heck of a man, old and bald and a booming voice. He had a Sunday morning TV show on a local channel. He preached in the old time ethnic black way that everyone loves to imitate but this man was the real deal. He was widely respected and in the black community it was a tremendous privilege to get on his TV show. He would invite various black church congregations, one by one, to serve as a proxy congregation while he preached from the TV studio on Sunday morning. It was a big deal for these small country churches to get invited and they would really break out the finery for the occasion. The studio had a pulpit and piano and away they'd go.

When Bishop Williams heard of my good dead, my kindness, and ... my prayer ... he took may hand and while thanking me, he announced that he was going to mention my name on his TV show the next morning. This was met by great approval by the gathered crowd though, at the moment, I was completely ignorant.

Finally I got in the car with Mr David and back to the hospital we went. On the way back, Mr David explained what an honor the Bishop was bestowing on me and that I would be very well thought of by the black community at large if the Bishop held true to his promise.

Lord, didn't he kill him fast

On the way home I stopped by my parent's home and told them my tale. There was much laughing except from my grandmother. My grandmother never told a joke in her life because, as she explained, she considered jokes to be lies unless it really happened in which case it wasn't funny anyway. She was a severe woman, a Baptist, which near as I can tell never did have anything to do with Christianity but that's another story. My mother, on the other hand, was the very embodiment of Christ's love and Christian temperament.... God bless my mother! She stood up for equality when it was a terrific test of principles. She taught her children to do the same. She had often prayed that I would be called to the ministry (zero chance on that one). As I walked to the door she came up and kissed me and confided that she thought her prayer had been answered... I had been given calling and should be true to it. We all agreed it would be fun to watch this early morning TV sermon of Bishop Williams and I went home.

a calling

The next morning I got up a bit late and fixed my coffee and got the paper. As I read and thought about leaving... I remembered the sermon. I didn't know it but it turns out the good Bishop had only five sermons ... and he repeated them over and over. My moment of glory fell on "Jonah Sleeping In The Belly Of The Whale" it turned out to be a terrible twist of fate. I turned the TV on and found the sermon already in full swing with the congregation singing and rocking and rolling and the piano player making Little Richard look calm. After a few moments of business the Bishop started in. He was wearing a great flowing white robe with tattered orange and red vestments and right away he was screaming and begging and pleading and singing this wild atonal sermon song in the deepest ethnic way that would make any rap singer of today envious. As I said, the sermon was almost like a song but punctuated with heaving sighs and grunts and all manner of gesticulation that would make Mick Jagger proud. Finally he concluded part one of the sermon with this scream...
when you wake up in the morning.... are you sleeping in your own bed???? .... ??? DR MILLER CAN YOU HEAR ME ???!!!!!

I spilled my coffee and woke up.... I thought maybe I woke up. I looked at the TV and the TV looked back... and I thought "did I just fall asleep? Did I hear what I heard?" and I started paying attention.

The sermon when on. Once again he came to the "chorus" and lo and behold ... once again....
when you wake up in the morning ... are you sleeping in your own bed???? .... ??? DR MILLER CAN YOU HEAR ME ???!!!!!

As I stared, transfixed, at the TV ... my thoughts went to my dear mother. Then my thoughts drifted to my grandmother ... and I did the smartest thing I'd done in the last two days. I reached over and took the phone off the hook. When I did I saw my 11 year old daughter standing quietly in the doorway of the family room. I looked at her wondering if she could understand the implications of what was being said ... she looked back and finally she said "Daddy, are you famous?" and I thought for a minute. I finally said no but that could be changing. I motioned and she came over and crawled up in my lap. As we watched she quietly observed that the Bishop looked scary... I thought "you have no idea, child." Once again to the chorus and after one more mention, my daughter asked... "should I go wake mommy up?" and I said I thought we should just let her sleep. Finally, as the sermon wound down, she asked if we had to go to church that day. I thought for a moment and said "no. ... no, honey, I think this would be a good day to skip." After the whole house had arisen and had been given the OK to skip church... I decided I would go play a silent solitary quiet round of golf. I loaded up and went out the deserted gold course ... back then even the worse sinners hit Sunday morning service in this small town. I started playing and thinking ... on about the 6th hole back away from everything but grazing cows across the fence... I heard this approaching commotion. Over the hill came a hoard of golf carts with screaming plaid whiteshoe-ed men yelling and laughing and being led by my best friend Frank who kept screaming out
"Dr Miller, Dr Miller can you hear me???"

And as I watched them descend upon me... I thought...
I don't know why, but I just feel like whistling
Lord, didn't he kill him fast
a calling
Dr Miller, can you hear me?

and I wondered if city doctors had this much fun ... and I put away my thoughts of leaving and never picked them up again.

And now, today, I sit reading this textbook and looking at the name of my old friend "up in lights." I wonder if I could have be a contender.... and I finally decide who knows, who cares.... it's been quite a ride


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