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.

 

WHAT I WRITE ABOUT:

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

WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY ABOUT 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

 

WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY ABOUT BEING A DOCTOR AND ABOUT MEDICINE

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?

All the Pretty Horses are Gone

Somewhere in times own space
There must be some
Sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on
And tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.
~Stanley Harrison

It was a tough week for the ponies, this one.   Earlier this week, Sandy Arledge lost her 30 year old black gelding Delmer, a grandson of the great Quarter Horse Poco Bueno.   Delmer was a fixture at Far West Farm for the past generation of children, who learned to ride on his gentle back.   And Robert Dennis lost Squirt, the old horse that taught his kids and grandkids to ride.  Here is his moving tribute from his  www.dennisranch.wordpress.com, shared by Robert:

‘We lost an old friend around here. Squirt, a little half horse. Chance found him dead in the corral this morning….
He wasn’t real pretty, or of great conformation, but he sure made a lot of little cowboys and cowgirls happy over the years….
He was born on this ranch, out of a little Shetland mare. His sire was a half Quarter horse, half Belgian, we had raised and had not gelded as quick as we should have. He and Topsy, the little mare, had a fling and 11 months later, here was this tiny little horse walking around with this little squirt of a horse following her.
Dusty, my nephew, started him when Squirt was 2 and Dusty was about 13. I lead Squirt afoot while Dusty rode him, after a blizzard, and we went thru’ and over quite a few snow drifts to get him comfortable with a rider on his back. Not much longer after that, if Dusty pointed him at a telephone pole Squirt would try to climb it, so to speak. Once Dusty came in soaking wet as he had decided to cross the water in a creek where he didn’t think it was too deep. It was…..
Another time, I jumped on Squirt bareback to run the horses in the corral from a small trap. For some reason he decided to buck and when his butt went up, my head went forward and the his head came up… our heads collided in mid air. Some say I am hard headed… but not as hard as Squirt was! I fell off like Artie Johnson used to when he was riding his trike on Laugh In, years ago.
Squirt taught my 3 sons to ride and then moved on to the neighbors kids and then on to Dusty’s son and then on to another set of kids. He came back here a few years ago to train on my grandkids and was doing a good job.
He was never bad about bucking, but would kick up, especially in his later years when he was asked to move at more than a trot. All in all, he was a good feller…
He will be missed.”

Back to me now.  Not every horse is temperamentally suited to be a good kid’s horse, but when you get one, you know there is nothing in the world quite as wonderful.  I have one of these good old boys at home myself– named Dash, registered as Red Dee Lux.  We bought him when he was about 14 and he’s coming 28 in the spring.  He’s been a kid’s horse since he was three years old, which is saying a lot if you know horses.  His conformation is terrible—he was born over at the knees and it’s only gotten worse with age.  I haven’t been able to ride him for a few years—he stumbles if there’s too much weight on his back.  He can be ornery in the cross ties and he’s taken a couple of pieces out of me as I lean over to do his feet, but put a kid on his back and he’s as good as gold.
There is no happy face in the world like that of a kid on a good horse.  It’s better than drugs, and they will always remember the ride.