(Not really medically related. I’m sort of busy this month and don’t have the energy to really organize my thoughts. My apologies but if this kind of thing will make you get all hissy then please come back to my blog in a few weeks when I expect to have more time to write a friggin’ thesis.-PB)
Who has had the greatest influence on your life?
My father, hands down, no question about it, of whom I have only good memories and who raised all of his children right. My father immigrated to the United States in the 1950s and, unusual for a Greek, after a one-day stay in New York and a ten-day bus trip ended up in Idaho. I say unusual because Greeks tend to clump together and form their own communities (as anybody who has been to Astoria can tell you). He had an Uncle in Idaho but let’s just say the state is not exactly a hotbed of Hellenic culture. My father was an engineer and an officer in the United States Navy. If I am half as successful or half as respected as my father when I die I will have had an exceptional life.
My wife, of course. I was nothing when I met her. Just a washed out college student. And I don’t know that I would have had the drive or even the desire to succeed at anything if it wasn’t for the universal desire of good men to impress their wives. But the last six years have been very hard on her which is probably a story I should have been telling you, oh my patient readers. She gave up a lot of security to let me go to medical school. I wouldn’t say we were rich back then but we were not teetering on the brink of financial ruin as we are today. Poverty in marriage is something you expect at the begining, not after sixteen years. I know intellectually that we will do all right in the end, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, but eight years is a long time and you can only rob Peter to pay Paul for so long before Peter gets wise. We knew it was going to be tough, of course, and it seems like a hundred years ago when we first sat down to plan out the long years of medical school and residency. It didn’t seem as daunting back then and it has been nothing like we expected. Frankly, for my wife it’s been like trying to stuff a tiger in a sack. It can be done but it doesn’t stay sacked long. Without giving away too many personal details, those of you with a family need to consider carefully what you are giving up and what it is going to cost.
My wife’s philosophy is not to let us think too hard about the future. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you do. We have no future. Medical school and residency is so demanding of you and your spouse that, unless you are independently wealthy, it’s best to just muddle through, living one month at a time until, almost by surprise the years have melted away and the end comes into view. This is difficult for both of us because we have always been forward thinking people.
Who are your heros?
Ronald Reagan comes to mind. That guy was a lion. Perhaps the best president and one of the greatest Americans in history. He was a man who came at exactly the right time as those of you who remember the malaise that had settled upon our country after Viet Nam, Watergate, and the lackluster Carter administration can attest. He also brought the Republican Party to the masses wresting it as he did from the so-called “Country Club Republicans.”
I also like Rush Limbaugh. I have been listening to him since he got started almost 17 years ago. Rush made conservatism cool. I mean, there have always been conservatives in American politics but since World War II they tended to be marginalized. Certainly conservative opinion was almost nowhere to be found in the mainstream with the possible exception of The National Review. Just as I am trying to give residents the conceptual framework to discuss their dissatisfaction with the current residency training system, Rush gave conservatives the vocabulary and the awareness to make their opinions known….which explains his popularity. Conservatism is nothing more than common sense writ large and even in this propagandized and in many ways excruciatingly silly age, most people have a deep core of common sense. He’s also a very funny guy, a brilliant satirist, and always highly entertaining. (The reason liberal talk radio has never really caught on is that most liberal talk show hosts can never expunge the bitterness and ill-humor that characterizes the political left.)
I am a great admirer of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Mr. Cheney, in particular, is perhaps the most intelligent man in Washington and it is a shame that he is not the kind of guy who could get elected President in our above-mentioned silly and superficial age.
As for heros from sports, well, I am almost completely asportic. I have absolutely no interest in professional sports of any kind and I think the emphasis we place on them as a society is both silly and inexplicable. I understand that the gridiron can be both a metaphor for life and war but…and maybe I just lack imagination…it’s just a leather ball that a bunch of guys are trying to run down the field. I can understand the player’s motivation because they get paid a lot of money to do it but how this translates into anything meaningful for the spectators is one of life’s great mysteries. I’m not against professional sports, and I have no objection whatsoever to atheletes making huge salaries to play what are essentially children’s games, but I just don’t have an interest.
Except for the Olympics. Every four years I go sports mad and, like the salmon, swim furiously up the spectator river to spawn before returning to the tranquility of the deep sportsless ocean. There’s just something about it. My wife and I also get a big kick out of the pagan, Cirque-du-Soleil-inspired opening and closing ceremonies. Proof that bad taste is an international phenomenon. They’ve been trying to upstage Hitler since 1933 and I think the Chinese might finally be the ones to do it.
As for actors, musicians, and the like, with the exception of John Wayne and Charlton Heston they are all pretty much interchangeable. I certainly don’t care about their opinions on anything important simply because they are trained performers. How the ability to play the cello or memorize lines translates into geopolitcal or scientific expertise is a mystery. A lot of my conservative friends have trouble paying to see movies featuring extremely liberal actors but what does it really matter? If I vetted entertainers for political opinions who would I have left? Unfortunately, the talent that allows someone to turn something silly and meaningless into entertainment also means that a lot of entertainers are somewhat silly and meaningless in real life. They can’t help it. The class clown (I went to high school with Greg Kinear, by the way, who was the class clown) or the girl who sings the lead in every high school play are not the kind of people who operate in the concrete world and they don’t necessarily gravitate towards conservatism which is not an ideology for wishful thinkers. So you have to give them some leeway.
Except for Whoopi Goldberg. Good Lord, does that woman grate. As far as I’m concerned she ruined every episode of Star Trek:The Next Generation in which she was featured. I have Tivo just so I can fast-forward through her scenes and I think in the wonderful internet future where we can download the Library of Congress in a couple of seconds someone could go back and seemlessly edit her out of everything.
Any Movies You Really Liked?
I just watched Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”. A wonderful picture and not at all the preachy, “White Man Bad, Indigenous Meso-American Peoples Good” slobber-fest I thought it would be. Hey, those Maya were some vicious bastards who cut off their captive’s heads just fer’ fun and sent their decapitated bodies spinning down the steps of their temples, all completely independent of the European mind-control that is usually blamed for recent third-world atrocities.
Not before cutting their hearts out, mind you, which leads me to my only objection to the picture. In one scene the high priest cuts out some poor son-of-a-bitch’s heart and shows it to him. Son-of-a-bitch looks at his heart in terror and then dies. Come on now. Would you really live long enough to look at your heart if somebody ripped it out of your chest?
Only Bruce Lee could do that.
But other than that it’s terrific. A really solid story coupled with a glimpse of a world that we have never seen depicted on the screen, at least not with such realism and attention to detail. Does Mel Gibson take liberties? Sure he does. The Maya weren’t as bloodthirsty as the Toltecs and the Aztecs or as Despotic as the Incas but he’s making a movie, not a documentary and human sacrifice was practiced by various meso-American cultures at different times. Additionally, many of their cultures were imploding by themselves when the conquistadors arrived. Cortez with his 500 soldiers could hardly have subdued an empire that was not already on the verge of collapse.
The guy can make movies. The Passion of the Christ was excellent although I hesitate to say I enjoyed it, or that I would watch it again. It was a little too intense and since I am from the South and the Bible-belt to boot, let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of the usual popcorn eating and chit-chat while it was being shown. We’re all hypocrites, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t believe, a concept that is apparently lost on the entire entertainment industry with the exception of Mr. Gibson. I assure you that thoughtful movies on any number of biblical stories would clean up at the box office if they were presented in a way that was neither patronizing nor written at a teenage level.
I took my four-year-old and seven-year-old to see Disney’s Ratatouille. It was completely enjoyable and believable, which is kind of the point when you’re making a movie about a rat who aspires to be a chef. The kids loved it and were glued to their seats which is not always the case at children’s movies. My daughter likes to help me cook and the funny thing is that you can learn a lot about cooking from the movie. Typical of Disney, while it is a children’s movie, it was not aimed exclusively at children. I can hardly watch movies like Spy Kids which the kids like but have nothing in them at all for adults. They’re just silly which Ratatouille was not…but it is…cause it’s a rat…but it’s believable. The only better Disney picture we have seen lately is “The Incredibles”.
Transformers, which I saw with my oldest son, was fantastic. It’s not “Chocolat” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” but the fact that it’s not some arty film in which nothing ever happens except a lot of angst and nihilistic dialogue is a definite plus. Nothing worse than a movie were nothing happens and you dislike all the characters intensely. Give me a good robot movie with heroic Special Forces and lots of things blowing up any time over one that is a chore to watch and requires work to appreciate. Hey, making it entertaining is the directors job. If I have to force myself to enjoy it he has failed.
Not to say I don’t enjoy the classics but they’re classics because people want to watch them.
What does your wife think about doctors now?
The magic is gone, I mean now that she knows what’s involved in our training. We’re just people, after all. Okay, generally more intelligent than most people but still people with all of the faults and defects of any other people. I know she trusted doctors a lot more before I went to medical school. Our pediatrician completely misdiagnosed our newest child with “Reactive Airway Disease” and we tortured her with nebulizer treatments for six weeks before my wife got fed up and demanded the antibiotics which fixed the problem (a croupy, intermittant cough) in about three days. The conventional wisdom seems to be not to give antibiotics to sick kids but in this case the doctor got caught up in his dogma.
She also recognizes all of our tactics, including the “brush off” and the “buck pass.”
On the other hand she has developed some unexpected sympathy for us, especially now that she knows how the business works. My wife knows, for example, that most physicians don’t have all day to chit-chat and they appreciate a patient getting to the point of the visit. A lot of patients don’t realize this and think we have all day for them. In the normal working world, everybody spends some of the work day in idle conversation, surfing the internet, or just pretending to work a la Office Space (another very funny movie) but this is not the case in much of the medical world. When the Emergency Department is busy, for example, we tend to mercilessly redirect rambling patients, something that the older generation who expect their physicians to listen silently for as long they care to talk, neither understand nor appreciate.
It’s not rudeness but the very real demands of the schedule and fifteen minutes wasted in the morning is going to be paid back somewhere else with some other patient who may need the extra time.
My wife sometimes says, when I am not the pillar of stoicism that men are expected to be, “I can’t believe you were a Marine.” Now, when I do something dumb or fail to grasp a concept which she has to patiently explain she says, “I can’t believe you’re a doctor.”
But we’re not perfect and while I think I’m a good doctor, I’m fairly average when it comes down to it. I have quite a few collegues who are an order of magnitude smarter so you see that perspective is everything. No doubt our patients think we are all Wiley E. Coyote-esque super-geniuses but among ourselves there is definitely some variation.
(To be continued…)