Saturday, June 10, 2006


An Invitation to My Hero

Who was it who said that, as we get older, heroes become harder to find and are never more important to have?

Afer 9/11 I became weary of the word hero... it seemed that we were desperate to imprint everyone with that word. True, we witnessed many acts of courage in those anguished times, but to me, hero was a word reserved for people who lived a lifetime of courage and honor for the greater good.

I have long maintained that there is a cosmic conspiracy tilted toward our happiness if we will only pay attention, will be entirely ready for common miracles to occur. So it was over a year ago that I stumbled into a medical practice management job for a man who needed someone quickly to pick up where his previous helper had left off. He was the husband of my partner's former boss, and I went on her encouragement that I might like to work for "a real person, for a change."

It wasn't a typical interview. It was a two-hour conversation with a man so filled with the joy of living, so ready to scoop up adventure, challenge, and the love of his fellows that I observed, "You're the most interesting man I've ever met." I worked for him in the final months of his practice as the chemotherapy targeted at his prostate cancer failed to hold back the tide that would take him, and he and his wife would cram in as many precious moments together as they could before his inevitable passing.

I was one of the last people to fall in love with Doc. In fact, I fell in love with the whole crew--the wife, the kids, the grandkids. His big house was full of family. The grandkids still in school were at the house every day, many of their friends in tow, some of whom would never know a father or a grandfather as interested in them as he would be.
He scuffed himself up from tearing around the park by his house on roller blades. His grown children were in and out on a nearly daily basis. No one could get enough of Doc.

The practice had dropped off in his last years, although there were patients who refused to change doctors, hoping that he would outlast them and they would never have to go to those little corporate bastions of indifference that have replaced the person-to-person care that Doc provided.

And what care it was! His appointments always ran over. He strongly believed that knowledge of his patients was essential to their medical care. Down the hall you could hear the loud laughter, the occasional silence that accompanied the difficult confidence. I could see that the time that they spent with Doc was as healing as any prescription he might write, any test that he might order.

It was while working for him that I faced my own problem with alcohol and joined AA. His mind was as fresh as mountain air, and I saw in him the dad I'd never had. It seemed only right to get clear, in part because my life was draining away, in part because I was close to him. Mine was another life that he had a hand in saving.

Last fall Doc finally had to admit that he would no longer be able to practice. He couldn't trust his judgment on the heavy pain medications he would now have to take. It was the hardest decision he ever had to make, I suspect. I spent my last weeks in his practice mostly listening to the patients he could no longer serve, who needed to share the sacred stories that comprised their years with him. They told me about house calls to houses without a front door--no problem, he just climbed through the window. They told me about cases of domestic violence where he had to talk down an enraged husband and then tackle him to get him out of the way in order to provide care. They told me about heart to heart talks that had resulted in their changing their habits in life saving ways. They shared stories about free treatments, free physicals for kids who couldn't afford them. They told me that they couldn't let him go because, as far as they were concerned, no one else would ever give a damn.

Doc was a lifelong Republican, a passionate advocate of personal responsibility. However, i
n his last year he noted with increasing discomfort the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. He threw away the letters from his state's medical association pushing the cause of tort reform. Though he was never sued for malpractice, he didn't like the direction that the medical establishment was going to undermine patients' rights. In earlier years, the state's party had asked him to run for Congress more than once, recognizing the personal charisma that would translate into landslide victories. I'm glad he never heeded that call. Because he was constitutionally incapable of lying, he would have been miserable in a political climate. He was a great one for leveling with the people in his life--never unkindly, but never holding back what he considered to be an essential truth.

Doc nearly left us at Christmas time. I went up to his bedroom during one of those difficult times and found his bed full of teenagers who had grown up with the family. One guy was in tears as he told him all that Doc had meant to him. The others rollicked, sure that laughter was the best medicine. When his whole family crammed into the house for the holiday, the love crowded out the cancer. The long months ahead would repeat that phenomenon, and I began to think that he would ride the tide of life forever, borne on that love.

Doc had his dysfunctions, as all great men do. He was stubborn, dramatic, and probably not interested enough in money. But what a short list for a man with such a long list of virtues! And any of those faults were available as virtues under the right conditions.

This afternoon his friends and family will gather in the park across from his house to dedicate a plaque to him. The ceremony was only days away from his passing. "He'd have loved to be there," his wife of 53 years told the local paper.

Oh, Doc. Please come anyway. You'll love it. And bring your roller blades. Nothing can hurt you now.

Will you do my eulogy?
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Thanks terribly. I know that you must really enjoying selling those cookies door to door, but I'm on a diet.

Oh oh,

It takes a lot to move me but you did, and he did. Thanks for the post. *sniff*
Lulu..your incredible at putting your thoughts down. You out-did yourself this time.

What a great human...we all need someone like him in our lives..
you're= you are
sorry KZ..I don't proof read till after I hit the submit button.
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