Saturday, March 25, 2006

Children - Love Them and Leave Them

Last weekend I attended the Scottish Heritage Weekend activities at St. Andrews Presbyterian College. A highlight of the weekend was the Friday night performance by the award-winning St. Andrews Pipe Band. It was held indoors in a rather small theater. The program also featured two singers with excellent voices. The program was outstanding.

There was only one problem. In attendance were several very young children, whose constant chatter, then fussing and crying, interfered with the enjoyment of the program. It was not so bad when the bagpipes and drums pretty much drowned them out. But, their multiple sounds were most distracting during the introductions by the master of ceremonies, the playing of the exquisite small pipes, and during the singers' performances. To this, the parents seemed completely oblivious.

This got me to thinking. I love children. My professional career has been dedicated to the care and nuture of children. There is nothing better in this world than to see happy children at play. I truly enjoy the young pre-schoolers and those of elementary school age. We can learn a lot by observing children and listening to their interaction with each other. I do not adhere to the premise that "children should be seen and not heard".

However, children do not have to go everywhere with their parents. Sometimes it seems that young parents have never heard of baby sitters. Maybe these parents are career oriented or both work by necessity and feel guilty about leaving their children behind when they go out to an event. I don't really know their motivations, but more and more I observe children at places and events that are not child-friendly. I'll go so far as to state that some situations are so inappropriate that they are unfair, if not harmful, to the children.

Either the children are "hushed" and attempts are made to force them into non age-appropriate behavior, or they are ignored and allowed to do the things children do, disturbing adult patrons of the event. In either case, they are being taught bad lessons.

My daughter, who has worked as a waitress and a bartender at fine establishments, tells stories of children running wild in the bar, completely ignored by the parents. We have all experienced the distractions of children (who rightfully should be at home, in bed, and sound asleep at the time) at movies, concerts, plays, and fine adult-oriented restaurants.

Children: Love them, Love them, Love them. But, know that there are times when it is preferable, both for them and for you, to leave them at home with a responsible party.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"Happy Saint Pat's Day"...From a Scotsman

I know I'm not Irish, but we all can use a little luck. I'm on my way to the Scottish Heritage Weekend Symposium at St. Andrews Presbyterian College. The Scottish weekend culminates with the Kirkin 'o' the Tartan Service at our Presbyterian (what else?) Church on Sunday. Got my kilt out and ready to go. Thank God it still fits.

But I'm not stupid. I'll wear green to today's events. The kilt can wait till tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Week at the "Beach"

Just got back from a week at the "beach". In other parts of the country it is called different things such as "the coast"or "the Gulf". But here in North Carolina and to our neighbors just to the south in South Carolina, it is the "beach". Home of "beach music" and the "shag". For the uniniated reader, especially those of the British persuasion, I haste to point out that the "shag" is a dance, very rhythmic, intricate, and difficult to master. There are many who dance the "shag", but there are few true "shaggers".

As is usual with such occasions, things did not go exactly as planned. But, it was a great week none the less. It was made more special by the fact that our daughter, Miss Em, was able to fly in to visit with us. We loafed around, read books, ate seafood, cooked a Boston Butt and collards especially for Miss Em, ate more seafood, visited, drank some whiskey, and watched some T.V.

T.V. consisted mostly with watching "American Idol" (in which three finalist are again from the great state of North Carolina) and the ACC Basketball Tournament (in which, unfortunately the "Dookies" once more prevailed, and the young Tarheels lost out in the semi-finals to the carpetbaggers from Boston College). I'm still proud of the Heels. If they do not win another game this season, they have far surpassed my greatest expectations for this inexperienced team. Roy Williams for National Coach of the Year. Freshman center Tyler Hansbrough has already been named ACC Freshman of the Year, All-ACC Tournament Team, All ACC First Team, and Sporting News First Team All-American. I must mention in passing that " My Best Friend, John" (see previous blog) has one big fault - he is a DOOK fan. But, I still love him.

Speaking of T.V. I did watch, for the only time, I promise, the absolutely worse T.V. show I have ever seen, Deal or No Deal. Where is the intellegence or talent here? Contestants must only recognize the Arabic numerals from 1 to 26 and be able to say them in English. The plastic beauties need to hold a briefcase and be able to open it on demand. Do they have day jobs. And I thought Vanna White did little on Wheel of Fortune, whose contestants look like mensa candidates compared to those on Deal.

I got a little off message there for a minute. We did have a wonderful week at the "beach". Sorry that Number One Son could not make it this time. Jobs have away of screwing up the best of plans. Also missed some friends of the family who could not make the trip. Maybe next time.

Next stop, the Outer Banks of North Carolina in August. We will be going "up" to the Outer Banks or "out" to the Outer Banks, but not "down" to the "beach" that time. It is a great place, but it is not the same. I have not "shagged" on the Outer Banks, not the dance, anyhow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Best Friend, John

Do you have a best friend? I mean one that has been your best friend since early childhood and remains your best friend to this day. I do. And, his name is John. We have been best friends for over 50 years, so long that I cannot remember when we were not best friends.

This entry is prompted by the fact that my best friend left us at the beach today to return home because of his sense of duty and commitement to a part-time position, when he could have stayed here without any questions asked. That is the kind of person he is.

Old home movies show us playing together as pre-school children. We were in school together from kindergarten through high school graduation. We were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts together. We went to the 1957 Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, PA and to the Philmont Scout Camp in New Mexico together. We received our Eagle Scout awards together. We played football together. He was the star quarterback. I was a grubby lineman. We were co-captains of the football team our senior year. He was, by far, the better athlete, excelling in basketball and baseball as well as football, while I could not make the team in the two latter-mentioned sports, so I served those as student team manager. It still irritates him to this day that I was named the most outstanding athlete in our class. I agree. The award should have gone to him.

John went to college on a football scholarship. There he met his wonderful wife. Then to my surprise, no, to my utter amazement, John went to Duke Divinity School in order to pursue a career as a minister. I will only say that he was the last person that I grew up with that I would have ever imagined entering the ministry and going to such a demanding institution as Duke. While he was not a stupid person by any means, the truth is, that while in high school he was not the most dedicated student. He had other interests at the time. I credit his wife with channeling his energy and intellect into a that of a scholar.

We had kept in contact during our college years, seeing each other mostly during school breaks. We worked together as common laborers for a large commercial air-conditioning company following our junior year in college. By that time it was OK for us to share a beer together, but not at his house. While he was in Divinity School at Duke and I was in Medical School down the road at UNC (Go Heels), we got together on occasions, especially after I got married. But for the most part we had our own separate social circles of classmates. Then, after he graduated and I was still a medical student, he was assigned three small rural churches not far from Chapel Hill. John and his wife needed friends, apart from his congregations. He needed a place that he could relax. Do any of us realize what a glass house we construct for our preachers? Anyhow, my wife and I provided a comfort zone for them. It was during this time that John decided, after consulting with his brother, a career Army physician, to apply to the Army Chaplin's Corps.

He was accepted and commissioned an officer (Chaplin) in the U.S. Army. He went to Viet Nam, where, as a Chaplin, he was awarded medals (I'm not sure whether they were Bronze Stars or Silver Stars, since he is hesitant to talk of his exploits) for Valor, very unusual for a Chaplin. When I entered the military and we were in transit from N.C. to Fort Sam Houston, TX, we visited John and his wife at his new posting at Fort Polk, LA. He could not understand why I, as a doctor, entered as a Captain while he, as a Chaplin, was a First Lieutenant after a couple of years of service. I could only defer to the infinite wisdom of the U.S. Army. It was at Fort Polk that he introduced me to Harvey Wallbangers. I have not had one since.

Over the years we have remained close. We saw each other at high school reunions when John was not serving overseas. On one such occasion we had a very good party. John was supposed to participate in the service at his home church that Sunday. His older brother was at home for the occasion. But, unfortunately, John was under the weather with a "stomach virus". His mother never cared much for me after that because she was convinced that I had slipped him some alcohol in his drinks at the party and gotten him drunk. I never told her otherwise.

When John was the Chief Chaplin at Arlington National Cemetery, our family visited his, and he wowed us with his knowledge of the history of that national shrine. We got the "cook's tour". Later when he was reassigned to Germany and we wanted to return to Germany where I had served for three years and where we adopted our son, John and his wife were gracious hosts for a portion of our trip. Even later, following my cancer surgery, once again they welcomed us to their last posting in Arizona, where I regained my strength. We RV'd to the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, and finally Las Vegas. I will never forget that trip.

John retired from the military as a full-bird Colonel after thirty years of service to his country. He saw duty as a young man in Viet Nam. As a senior officer, he served with the Big Red One in Iraq as part of Desert Storm. For that alone he has my undying respect.

Upon retirement John returned to our hometown. His wife said he wanted to retire with me. I really do not know whether that is the complete truth, but I take it as a supreme compliment. I'm sorry that I cannot develop a love of golf that he has. I have enjoyed the comraderie of our times on the links, but since I'm such a sorry golfer, I have given up the game. I have noted above that he is a better athlete (and competitor) than I am. I hope he will forgive me.

I have other regrets in our friendship. I regret that I thought I was in love with a young English girl in college and went to England following our senior year in college and missed his wedding. I traveled six thousand miles to get shot down, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I later met my wonderful wife, now of almost thirty eight years. John and his wife attended our wedding. I regret that I jumped out of bed one morning to go to an emergency C-Section, only to have my back go out on me. I had to call partners to cover the C-Section, but more regrettably, I had to miss the wedding of John's son that weekend. It seems that he has always been there for me, but the reverse has not always been true.

We were there with him when his wife underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor. We will be with them as she undergoes radiation therapy for a recurrence of the tumor. They just learned of the recurrence the day they came to join us at the beach. They and we are optimistic about her prognosis. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers, and wish we could do more.

John has a good income from his military retirement pay. He has two wonderful children and a new grandchild whom he loves to visit. He loves to travel and go RV'ing. He does not need to work. But, when his home church lost it's associate pastor and needed a part-time associate, John agreed to a 20-hour a week committment to the church. This has evolved into a pretty much full time job for part-time pay. He does not complain. He continues to serve his church and his community, and that is why he left the beach today. With all that he has going on in his personal life at this time he still felt a duty to his church to complete a task that he had started, although someone else could have filled in for him for a single meeting. That is the kind of person he is, and that is why I love him, and why I have the honor of calling him my best friend.

Do you have such a best friend. I hope so.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Free at Last...Free at Last...But Not Forever

Am just finishing up five weeks of work and beginning five weeks of "retirement". That's what semi-retirement is all about. My friends ask me how I like my five weeks of "vacation", and I have to explain that it is not "vacation". One gets paid during vacation, not during "retirement". There is a difference.

After my first couple of "times off" I really did not want to go back to work. I had fun doing a little traveling, catching up on some projects around the house, sleeping in late (while my wife continued to get up early and go to work), reading, enhancing my cooking skills, and just enjoying the bliss of being completely worthless at times.

But after my last "time off", which luckily included the Christmas Holidays, I was really looking forward to getting back in the saddle at the clinic. My children had come for Christmas and returned home. My wife, still working full time, could not get off anytime she wanted to go on trips with me. And, remember, I'm not being paid when off. After years of lying to myself that I enjoyed golf (and it is called this because all the other four-letter words were taken), I quit the stupid game. I have enough humbling things in my life without going out and seeking them and paying good money for them to boot. Anyhow, it was winter. Why not work?

I returned to work full of vim and vinegar, ready to conquer disease once more. Then several things converged that really wore me down. The Flu season appeared with a vengence. I'm talking about the real influenza here. Hundreds of cases I'm talking about. There was also a flu-like illness that mimicked the real deal in all aspects except for the negative flu test. On top of this a nasty vomiting and diarrhea bug struck. Of course, there was the seasonal RSV (respiratory virus) intrusion causing cough, cold, and wheezing in infants and toddlers. And we had our usual number of routine physicals and various episodic illnesses to deal with. We had more admissions to the hospital, as we usually do in the winter, meaning more work and more time at the hospital in addition to the clinic. Moreover, it seemed that about every baby born was a product of an emergency C-Section delivery (better known as a "vaginal bypass") for some reason or another, necessitating a pediatrician at the delivery. Such daytime deliveries took one of the doctors out of the office for an hour or two, adding to the patient load of the remaining docs manning the fort. Such nighttime deliveries, and there were many, got me up out of a nice warm bed. I should add that most of the newborn babies did fine, and those who experienced problems after birth ultimately did fine also. So why am I complaining, we did good. But it was tiring.

Then, one of the younger doc's wife had a baby, and he took off a couple of weeks to help out with the baby, the older brother, and parents and in-laws. He came back to work this weekend and said he was ready to come back to work for relief. So we were a doc short for two weeks. Let me make one thing clear. I'm not faulting the doc. I would have done the same. Of course, his two nights of night call had to be covered by one of us. As luck would have it, the schedule made it perfectly clear that I was the logical choice to cover both nights. I was "Unlucky Pierre" as we say around the clinic. In the past I have been both "Lucky Pierre" and "Unlucky Pierre", and it all evens out in the long run. But in the short haul, it is tiring.

Lastly, one of the other young doc's daughters got ill enough to be hospitalized. Of course, he took off to help out with her and the two other daughters, both of whom were also sick but not sick enough to go to the hospital. Bottom line, another slot to fill at the ranch. We all pitched in and things worked out. His daughter is making a nice recovery, and the other two are better, also.

So, now I'm free for five weeks. The first week will be spent at the beach. My wife and Mom will be there the whole week. My best friend and his wife will join us for a few days. My two children are flying in for the latter part of the week. Unfortunately, they could not come for a longer stay, but they have lives of their own many, many miles away. I cherish the time they can get away to spend with us. I'm just sorry that their friends could not accompany them. The house we are using is huge. It sleeps 18 according to the literature. But, who would want 17 other people in a beach house with them? These young people have such busy lives, why aren't they tired?

After the beach, no real plans. Maybe, just maybe I'll choose to be completely, utterly worthless again for a few weeks, so I will be ready to go back to the clinic when I am no longer free.