Two Hundred and Nine Short Essays Later


Here I am in Boston, on the eve of my very first writer’s conference, feeling a bit like an imposter.  After all, the extent of my writing so far has been this blog, apart from thousands of histories, physical exams and treatment plans over the last thirty-nine years since starting medical school.  It occurred to me that someone might actually want to know what it is that I write about.  And then it occurred to me that I had never actually thought about it.  So I did, and this is what I came up with.



Cancer                                                                                                                           Radiation Therapy                                                                                                                 Dogs                                                                                                                                   Cats                                                                                                                                     Horses                                                                                                                                   Being a mother                                                                                                                         My kids                                                                                                                                 Travel                                                                                                                                    My father                                                                                                                               My mother                                                                                                                             Being a doctor                                                                                                                         Life


Cancer patients inspire me and motivate me                                                                       I’d like to explain a few things about cancer                                                                         I’d like to explain a few things about radiation therapy                                                     Cancer is evil and is not selective and makes me sad                                                 Cancer patients can be funny and they also make me laugh                                   Sometimes people do really stupid things when it comes to cancer treatment         Sometimes simple people can be heroes                                                                         Dogs are good therapy for me, my cancer patients, and my kids                                     Ditto on cats                                                                                                                       Horses are beautiful, liberating, dangerous and always expensive                                     You can be a mother AND a doctor and it’s going to be very hard                                     Your kids will forgive your shortcomings                                                                            Your kids will make fun of you                                                                                           Your kids will be successful if you EXPECT them to be and don’t harass them              Travel is enlightening and sometimes difficult and sometimes funny                                    My surgeon father is both an inspiration and a source of extreme annoyance                       My mother had a hard life and a hard death, despite appearances                               There’s always someone worse off than you                                                                   There’s always something to hope for



Examine your patients—it’s important                                                                               Think for yourself and follow your gut instinct                                                                Beware of templates.  They tempt us to cheat                                                                     The Rules of the House of God still apply                                                                      Doctors make mistakes.                                                                                                       Be very selective about who you hire and set a good example for them                             Be the captain of the ship                                                                                                     Try not to whine, even if you fail                                                                             Communicate with your referring doctors and with your patients                                     Take the time and make the time                                                                                         Learn to speak slowly and clearly in layman’s terms                                                           Try not to say no, and never say “never”                                                                             DO NOT DROP THE BALL when dealing with cancer patients                                           And finally, answer your goddamned phone calls

Did I leave anything out?

A Brief News Update From the Animal House

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have quite a little menagerie here.  In my animal loving prime, when I had a lot more energy than I do now, we had 5 Scottish deerhounds, one Brussels Griffon, two cats, two guinea pigs and eight horses, at least one of which I kept a secret from my husband who I feared would think that perhaps things were getting a little bit out of hand.  One day at the barn, he spotted a horse that he just KNEW I would love, and he inquired of the trainer whether the horse was for sale.  She didn’t quite know how to tell him that I already owned that particular animal.

The zoo has been winding down a bit here, mainly because the kids are gone and I am less prone to temptation without their little voices clamoring for that kitten for sale in the parking lot at the grocery store.  The cat with nine lives, eighteen year old Timmy Tom, was put to sleep in August when we could not control his thyroid disease, weight loss and vomiting.  Many of the horses have moved on to greener pastures elsewhere, where new children could learn to ride from the safety of their well-trained backs, and some of the best have passed on to that great green pasture in the sky.  Stormin’ Norman, the little Lipizzaner who carried my daughter through many a dressage test, left in late June to be leased by a beginning dressage rider.  In August she called to say she wanted to extend the lease to six months.

So I was surprised yesterday to get a call from the trainer to say that they would like to send twenty four year old Norman home.  She said that no matter how much she fed him, she couldn’t keep weight on him, and besides, an old stifle problem was recurring.  Fearing the worst, I went over to the boarding/training facility last night to have a look at him.  Now, mind you, this is a horse who has lived in my back yard for the better part of twelve or thirteen years.  Always a personable animal, with a beautiful expressive face and eyes, he knew me as well as any horse can know a person.  So I was surprised last night when I approached him with a bag of carrots and I heard no welcoming whinny.  His head shot up, and if horses can glare, this one positively glared at me.  His expression, plain as day, said, “Where the heck have YOU been, and when are you getting me OUT OF HERE?!”  And then he munched on his carrots.  He looked a little thin, but otherwise fine.

Norman’s coming home to join twenty eight old Dash on Wednesday, and I must say I’m glad.  The two old souls deserve a nice retirement, despite the fact that they really don’t like each other. And Labor Day weekend I visited a friend in Albuquerque who had a litter of eight week old deerhound puppies– it was hard to leave without one but they were all spoken for.  One day soon, I might be hearing the pitter patter of new little feet around these parts. After all, what’s a new carpet for?

The Ninth Life

They say that cats have nine lives.  If ever that saying was true, it applies to our Timmy Tom who started his ninth today.  Thomas will be eighteen years old in September, and a week ago I thought he was a goner. In truth, when I look back, his eighth life started about a year and a half ago, when he began to make peculiar noises, particularly at night.  My daughter was housesitting with her boyfriend while we were in Africa, and she emailed me to say, “What’s with Timmy Tom?  He walks around yowling all night.  I think he is possessed.  My boyfriend calls him Devil Cat.  Should we call an exorcist?”  Indeed, his cries at night were enough to wake the dead.  But he was eating and drinking well, and producing copious amounts of excrement as befitting a 20 pound yellow tabby, deposited in the proper place—his litter box.  After careful inspection and palpation of various body parts finding no particular tender areas, we gave it no more thought.

In August of last year we were visited by two friends who happen to be veterinarians, here in San Diego for the big veterinary society meetings.  They too were treated to the loud vocalizations emanating from our cat, at which point Margaret said, “He must be hyperthyroid.  It’s one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in elderly cats—they make a lot of noise.”  She examined him and listened to his heart and pronounced it normal, without the loud galloping rhythm associated with an overactive thyroid. He was sleek and fit (and maybe just a little bit fat!)  We got used to the noise—after all, in a house full of animals a few extra vocalizations at night were nothing to lose sleep over.  It wasn’t until this spring that the cat began to lose weight—just a little at first, nothing too alarming.  But the weight loss combined with an obsession with the dogs’ enormous water bowl (not to mention my toilet) led me to conclude that perhaps he was diabetic.  I took him to the vet, who drew blood and pronounced that he was not diabetic, however his thyroid level was sky high.  Never mind—there’s medication for that, as long as you can catch your cat to administer it.  Cats are smarter than dogs—there’s no such thing as concealing a pill in a chunk of cheddar cheese.  Thank goodness for methamizole cream, administered on a gloved finger inside the ear.

Ten days ago I thought the jig was up.  Each morning I was presented with a gift—I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my bathmat will never be the same.  The emergency vet last Saturday concluded that the intra-aural administration of medication was unreliable and that Tom’s thyroid needed better regulation.  He got fluids and we switched to the pills.  He did not get better.  On Wednesday, I took him to his regular vet, who examined him and found an abscessed tooth.  She drew blood work too, but it was too late in the day to send it off for analysis, and I had to wait until after the July 4 holiday to get the results.  The covering vet called me yesterday to say that his white count was 20,000.  Twenty thousand?  Yikes!  My own white count wasn’t that high when I was hospitalized with MRSA.  My husband and I swung into action.  We gave the cat antibiotics.  Which antibiotics?  The ones leftover from the little dog who passed in December.  We are nothing if not economical.  Antibiotics in this household are never wasted.

Timmy Tom woke up today a new cat.  He sauntered into the kitchen and demanded his chicken breast for breakfast.  He got that and more—some grilled ahi tuna left over from our holiday barbecue.  He drank deeply from the dogs’ giant water bowl and from the toilet.  And my bleached and laundered bath mat remained unbesmirched.  Cue a distant chorus of “Memory” from the musical CATS—“Daylight, I must wait for the sunrise, I must think of a new life. And I musn’t give in. When the dawn comes–Tonight will be a memory too.  And a new day will begin.”  For Timmy Tom, the ninth life has started.