Saturday, December 24, 2011

Physician, Heal Thyself

My father's best friend died today, proving that doctors are disinclined to seek treatment for themselves and also that medicine, at the end of the day, is a complete and utter crapshoot. I loved Boochie. He was my GP, not to mention the mitigator of my father's famously bad temper and intercessor on our behalf for all kinds of things, from ear-piercing (which he did in his office, btw) to my weight loss surgery. My sister and his daughter, who is also a general practitioner, are the same age and were classmates-she was valedictorian, while Little Sister was Homecoming Queen. His son is one of those rare children I actually liked and did not fear; I was rather fond of Little William. I honestly can't say that about most children. I was born old, i.e., I acted like I was forty when I was four, and therefore other children frightened me. I still won't hold babies for fear of dropping them on their little heads- but I hauled William around with impunity.

When Boochie's grandson, Avery, was born, my father immediately went to Wal-Mart and purchased two things: a baseball glove and a Red Ryder BB Gun. I am not kidding. My father coveted the Red Ryder BB Gun when he was a boy, but his family did not have the means to get him one; instead, he got a single-action Daisey, which was not nearly as cool. Since neither my sister nor I are poised to reproduce, Dad made certain that the only infant in his immediate orbit got that BB gun. He's crazy about this kid. Seriously, the man who had a fit because one of his Army buddies had to show him how to change my diaper when my mother was gone for a little while is NUTS about his best friend's infant grandchild.

One of their weirder joint projects was growing pumpkins. They decided that pumpkins would be a good idea because they hunted deer. Deer eat pumpkins, plus, bonus: they wouldn't have to pay for pumpkins at Halloween. It sort of backfired- they had a bumper crop of pumpkins, the enormous ones that sell for twenty or thirty dollars, and no way to get rid of them. Boochie's parents lived on the main drag headed toward the high school and near the city elementary. They pulled a pumpkin-laden trailer into the yard, and told his mother (a retired teacher known to everyone) to charge whatever she thought was fair. Word got out that Miss Cleo was selling giant pumpkins for $2-5 each, and it was a madhouse. They got rid of the pumpkins, though.

About a year ago, I had a painful ganglion cyst about the size of a ping pong ball pop up on the inside of my left wrist. I'm left-handed and do quite a bit of computer-based work, plus the thing caused three of my fingers to go numb on a daily basis. It just kept getting bigger, so I sucked it up and went to see Boochie. He came into the examining room a little grey-faced and short of breath, manipulated my wrist and then explained it's what they used to call a "Bible cyst" because the old folks would just whack 'em with the family Bible to burst them. He offered to refer me to a surgeon to have it taken off; when the appointment concluded, I walked down the hall to Dad's office and asked him if Boochie was sick.

This all happened so fast. Many of his health problems mirrored my mother's, but she's also more than twenty years older. My father was home having lunch and got a call from the office staff to come quick, something was wrong. Shortly thereafter, they airlifted Boochie to a hospital with an advanced surgical unit that was supposed to be able to treat him. The spirit may have been willing, but the flesh was weak. They were unable to save him.

It is an incredible loss to everyone: the town, the patients, the medical community, but most of all, to the people who loved him. My father has difficulty getting close to people, but he was close to Boochie. I overheard my parents' conversation at the table: "I can't believe it. I can't believe Boochie's dead." "The last time I saw him, he waved to me from the end of the hall. He was talking to a patient. The next time I saw him..." and Dad's voice trailed off. Then he added, "But it won't change anything. He's gone. He's gone."

Modern medicine is miraculous, but sometimes we don't get the miracles we want. I am reminded of something my childhood pastor once told me: "It's not that God doesn't answer your prayers. Sometimes, whether you like it or not, the answer is 'no'." There was just too much 'no' built into this equation. Why did a man who saved so many lives, who labored so long and hard in doing it that he ignored his own health, have to die? I have no answers; I only have questions, and pain.

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