Childhood misconception: I used to think there was a big mailbox in the middle of the hospital – possibly out in the hallway by the nurses’ station – where the doctor “delivered” babies. He would somehow get the baby from the mom, wrap it in a blanket, carry it over there and drop it in. The next day it would arrive at the house (possibly carried by a stork) where the parents would be there to greet it and raise it.
I wasn’t sure why you had to be a doctor to do that, but it seemed like a big deal.
John Paul Puckett, M.D. delivered me, and for the next 25 years, he was my doctor.
He took out my tonsils, fixed a hernia, stitched me up a few times and performed those physicals for Scout camp and school.
I remember sitting in the little room with the Norman Rockwell doctor pictures on the wall, on the paper-covered couch, hearing his deep baritone voice as he talked to the nurses, the click of his footsteps on the tile floor.
Finally the clicks would approach, pause as he plucked your chart out of the little clipboard holder on the door and quickly scanned it to see what you were there for. Then he’d step in, smile and you knew everything would be all right.
Dr. Puckett always wore a neatly-pressed white shirt with a bow tie. He was trim and exuded confidence. He’d look in your ears, press your tongue down with that overgrown popsicle stick and peer down your throat, listen to your breathing with his stethoscope, feel your abdomen.
The whole time, he was talking to you, catching up on your life, school, interests, plans. It felt like small-talk, but you knew it was information he needed.
Then he would give you his diagnosis, click his pen, write instructions or a make out a prescription. He’d tell you what they were going to do, what you should do, smile again, touch your shoulder and you’d be on your way.
He retired from his practice the week I got married.
It was awhile before we settled enough for me to have “my” doctor again.
Frank Lonergan, M.D. was president of the Chamber of Commerce when I met him – unusual, I thought, for a doctor – and it was in that capacity I interviewed him for a newspaper story.
He came across as a genuinely nice, kind man who was also a Harvard graduate and a board-certified family physician. I decided the next time I needed a doctor, I would go see him.
For the next 25 years, he was my doctor.
He dealt with my allergies, removed a few skin cancers, urged me to lose a few pounds, prescribed that first colonoscopy, got me into therapy when I pinched a nerve. He discovered I’d broken a toe, gave me a cortisone shot for plantar fascitis, told me to start taking a baby aspirin.
He didn’t wear a bow tie or have a deep voice, but he’d have gotten along well with Dr. Puckett. Both believed in connecting with their patients as people. They cared about you, looked you in the eye, took an interest in your health and shared their thought processes with you.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have two doctors like that to cover me to this point. They knew a big part of medicine is education – talking to the person, helping them understand what was going on and deal with it in ways that went beyond pills and injections and surgeries.
Frank retired this year. He’s doing some training, some volunteer work, still helping people. I didn’t get an exit interview or a chance to tell him thank you for his care. But I’m extremely grateful.
A physician many of you know, Dr. Kelly Tibbels, spoke at the Decatur Lions Club the other day. I don’t know Dr. Tibbels well, but I can tell he’s cut from the same cloth. He’s a family doc, with all that entails. He’s wise, funny, confident, not the least bit pretentious, and it’s obvious he likes people.
He said he was going to tell us everything he knew about medicine, and he did, in five points. It’s information too valuable not to share, so here it is:
1. Oxygen is good. If you don’t have oxygen, forget the rest of the rules. Nothing else matters.
2. Blood must go round and round. If blood goes out, it’s not good. If it gets stopped up, that’s not good. If the pump quits working, it’s not good. It’s got to go round and round.
3. You’ve got to make pee. If you don’t make pee, bad stuff builds up in your blood, and you’re going to die.
4. Stasis is bad. Stasis means stuff that doesn’t move. If anything doesn’t move, it’s not good. Snot, eyeball fluid, your gall bladder, your blood, your bowels, the body itself. Take a 250-pound linebacker and put him in bed for a couple of days, he’s weak as a baby. Everything about you is made to move.
5. You do not want to be an “interesting case.” If they’re all standing around your hospital bed, stroking their goatees and saying, “Hmmm…” that’s bad.
He got a lot of laughs and taught us something. The last point was especially funny, since in my experience, good doctors are always exactly that.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.