Thursday, May 24, 2012

three is good company

i'm a doctor's daughter, and that fact has always been a part of my identity. like blue-eyed, good with words, left-handed, i can't imagine who i might be if i had not grown up as doctor's daughter. hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night, watching my father come in before breakfast with pajama edges hanging out of his coat.

other fathers i knew ran farms, invented things. my father fixed things, but without tools holstered around his waist.

i loved the smell of his bag when i was a child, the sound it made when he opened it, like something important was in there.  i used to pull his stethoscope out and put it into my ears to see what his world sounded like. i loved to hit my knee with his reflex hammer, to look at his prescription pad, his name printed out in neat letters, even watching as he wrote that name in letters i could not recognize at all.

i don't remember when i learned just what his being a doctor meant. somehow, though, i knew my father was a healer, someone with the smarts to understand the human body transparencies in the World Book Encyclopedia — all those red and purple lines connecting sinew and bone — and he used his smarts to make sick people well again. most of the time.

in all my wonderings about what his life was like, i never remember wanting to be a doctor. for all the hero qualities my father had in my eyes, i did understand as i grew older that doctoring folks was not a pretty business. even the brand new babies lined up in the hospital nursery came into the world in a flurry of blood and gore and pain, and helping people through all that, even when the outcome was sparkling, was just not for me.

but for my brother, it took. and so he became a doctor, too, attending the same undergrad university as my dad, the same medical school. and he has the same name.

when my brother first became a doctor, i couldn't imagine it. how could he, the same brother who sang Beatles tunes when he was alone, whose favorite past time was to lie on the couch and order my sister and me around have what it took to become someone like my father? someone who listened. who knew what to do. but in 32 years of watching him from afar, i have come to understand that he, too, has that gift.

29 years ago, my brother had his first son. he named him for my dad, and i wondered then what he would grow up to be. he grew tall and smart like his grandfather and father before him, and before i knew it, there he was entering their alma mater.

on monday of this week, grandson graduated from the same medical school as grandfather — 60 years apart. and i got to be there, with my father (class of '52), my brother ('8O). what joy.

i sat behind my family during the hooding, when grandson Kip would step over the line from student to doctor. i captured pictures like i always do. near the end of the ceremony, a woman, a doc from the class of '62 stood and asked the newest docs to stand and say the physician's oath. and then she invited every doc in the chapel to recite it with them.

my brother stood. and then my father. and one by one, doctors of all ages and genders stood with them, reciting the words with the newest doctor in my family, and his fellow MDs. 

"I will, under all circumstances, use my knowledge in the service of humanity," they said."These promises I make freely, and upon my honor."

upon my honor.
  i watched my brother, wondering if he thought, as i did, that he might not have made it to this day if not for doctors who had saved his life in january. (he is 100 percent fine today and looks 10 years younger than when i last saw him in the hospital.) i looked at my father, his 6'2" frame stooping a bit, marveling at how much his life has mattered to the people he served. knew my nephew — whom i could not see in the mass of black and green and gold — had just joined what i think of as my dream team.

in no time i was weeping, thinking of all the times my daddy healed me, with a stitch (once) or a Band-aid (lots), with a word or a touch (too many to count). these are the same tools he used on his patients every day as he healed them with prescriptions, Penicillin and plaster casts, and in truth, he'd tell you that sometimes those hidden tools were all he ever needed to do his job well.

i wiped my eyes, thinking of my brother, whose patients — sprinkled in small towns all over eastern N.C. — often don't ever recover from the condition he treats. thinking of my nephew, and how if he is half the doctor his grandfather and father are, he'll be a pretty damn good one in my book.

some people might talk about how much doctors make in a year, how that's their only consideration — the money. but i know, even though i am no doctor, a little bit about what my family of doctors has been called to do. and how much they make is not the most important factor.

on my honor.


when it was over, a guy with lots of cameras around his neck too their picture — my three family docs — because three generations of "double deacs" as my brother calls them, with the same name too, are fairly rare. later, when it was my turn at the camera, i shot as they pointed to the diploma they all now share, the iconic campus steeple rising above their heads into an open sky.


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