One hot and humid weekend the summer my brother was ten years old, he told our father his stomach hurt.
“Try going to the bathroom,” my dad said.
We were vacationing on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on our boat (more about this “boat” later). My dad sat bayside with a beer in hand and a cigarette snug in his lips, watching the sun set. My brother came back an hour later.
“Dad, my stomach still hurts.”
“Well, did you poop?”
The next morning, my brother continued to complain about his gut.
“You’ll be fine,” my dad said as we packed the car for our return trip.
Half way to Pennsylvania, my brother started to cry. Dad pulled over the car and did an impromptu stomach examination. We headed straight to the Reading Hospital whereupon my brother passed out in the reception area. He was rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy.
When you have a doctor for a dad you have to be almost dead before going to the hospital.
I mentioned our “boat” earlier. Many people have the impression that doctors have lavish lifestyles because they make a lot of money. My guess is that some physicians do, but my dad was an ER doc, a specialty that is on the lower end of the medical pay scale. My parents also had (and still have) the let’s-fix-up-this-run-down-200-year-old house disease. And they are generous to a fault. Plus they had four kids and we had ponies, ducks, goats, soccer team trips, dance lessons, prom dresses, soccer cleats, college tuitions, and huge appetites. As a result, their bank account suffered.
That “boat” was a forty-foot long, old wooden fishing vessel named the Sheryl Dee. It had pinprick holes in the roof and whenever it rained the unlucky occupants in the top bunks got soaked. And if it was a pounding deluge, the bilge pump usually shorted. That meant all hands on deck and we’d scoop buckets of water into the bay. The worst part of the Sheryl Dee was that we all had to jam into a single little sleeping cabin. Most nights, together with my mom and siblings, we’d sit on the dock until the wee hours of the morning because my dad snored so loudly that nobody could sleep.
When you have a doctor for a dad it doesn’t mean you’ll have luxurious accommodations.
To that point, growing up, my oldest brother and I shared the third floor of our old Victorian house, each with our own small attic bedroom. There was no heat on this level. And the thought of a space heater never occurred to anyone.
Instead, I wore long johns, a sweat suit, two pairs of socks on my feet and two pairs on my hands, and a hat to bed. I’d sleep stick straight for fear of rolling over onto an ice patch. It’s said that the colder the room you sleep in, the healthier you are.
That might be true as I had perfect attendance in grade school (part of that might have been due to the you’re-not-sick-unless-you’re-dying family philosophy, too).
When you have a doctor for a dad, heat is not guaranteed.
Wow, Heather! It sounds like your dad is a cold, unfeeling person.
Actually, nothing could be less true.
My father is a man of his word who is deeply thoughtful, kind, and reliable. But—he doesn’t worry about minor discomforts like wet or freezing sleeping quarters or a little cold. He believes most things can be fixed.
And I guess that’s because he’s seen what can’t be fixed.
Like the elegant, elderly lady who finally resigned herself to visiting the emergency room because there was a tiny problem with her legs. She was dressed impeccably and sat in her wheelchair with a beautiful blanket draped over her lap. My dad lifted the coverlet to find her legs dead below her knees and infested with maggots too far damaged to ever be fixed.
Or maybe it was the stoic farm boy who arrived at the ER in the front seat of his father’s pick-up truck with his severed legs in the back seat. He’d fallen under the rotary blade of his dad’s tractor.
My father ran out of the hospital to meet them. Then he lifted the boy into his arms and turned the boy’s head lest the kid see my dad place his legs on the gurney.
“How will I play soccer without my feet?” the little boy asked. “I just made the team.”
There’d be no fixing.
The boy’s legs could not be reattached.
Or being called during a family dinner because the neighbor knows my dad is a doctor and there’s been a motorcycle accident on the edge of the village. And my father, arriving first on the scene, to find a young man—a part-time police officer—splattered on the road. My dad, riding in the ambulance, calling ahead to the ER, but knowing this man will not make it. Knowing that there was nothing to be done.
The situation was unfixable.
My dad knows that bad things can happen and do. But he believes, more deeply than most people, that it’s important not to sweat the small stuff, because time and time again it is small stuff.
Most things can be fixed.
Whether it’s a stomachache, a rain shower, or a cold winter.
Though not a religious man, my dad is known to say, “Time and Jesus heal most things.” In other words, This too shall pass. And 99% of the time it does.
That’s what it’s really like to have a doctor for a dad.
I’ve battled a pesky cold and an annoying cough the last couple of weeks. At Sunday dinner, I asked my dad how to get rid of it, if I should go to Patient First. He sort of smirked.
“Really, Dad, what should I do? How long should I wait before I go to see a doctor?”
“If it doesn’t go away in a year, I’d start to worry,” he said.
And that was that.
* * *
I told a doctor I broke my leg in two places.
He told me to quit going to those places.
* * *
When I’m not writing, I’m selling real estate. One time, I swear, I sold a house because the seller had Coq au Vin cooking on the stovetop. It smelled so welcoming and delcious! Here’s Julia Child’s recipe. I found it on Leite’s Culinaria (a cool site for recipes and cooking tips).