The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor
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Chapter 1 – Near Death
Beth dashed into my office. “Dr. Larimore, I need you in the treatment room. Now!”
I threw down the chart I was reading and followed my nurse down the hall and into the procedure room. Patty was placing a blood pressure cuff on a distinguished-looking gentleman with gray hair and a tanned face, but he was critically ill—not fully alert, ashen, and with a cold, clammy forehead.
As I examined him, Beth gave some history. “His name is Dan Autrey. He has a cabin above the Nantahala River. He was working in his yard, clearing some brush, when a swarm of yellowjackets attacked him. His wife said he immediately welted up and itched all over. She gave him two 25-milligram Benadryl capsules and drove him here as fast as she could.”
Patty finished taking his vital signs. “Blood pressure only 60 systolic!” she exclaimed. It was abnormally low. “Pulse is 120 and thready. Respirations 32. Pulse ox 88 percent.”
All were abnormal. I was sure he was heading into anaphylactic shock from a severe reaction to the venom. Beth pointed to the intubation kit as if to ask if we might need it should his breathing fail. “Let’s be prepared; however, get him on oxygen via nasal cannula at two liters a minute.” Beth nodded.
“Patty,” I barked, “let’s get an IV started. Lactated ringers wide open. Beth, get an EpiPen and give one dose IM, stat.”
Both of my nurses jumped into action. I turned my attention to the patient. “Mr. Autrey, can you hear me?”
“Mr. Autrey, can you say anything?”
He tried, but he could only whisper. I could not understand his words. I was sure the venom was affecting his vocal cords.
“Beth will give you a shot. It should help.”
He nodded again.
Although reactions to insect stings were common in the mountains, the more severe variety, such as this one, was, fortunately, rare. I said a silent prayer the treatment would work quickly.
I admired how well Patty and Beth performed together under pressure. They had worked together in the hospital ER, and it fostered their magnificent teamwork. Beth took the cover off the epinephrine syringe, wiped Dan’s skin with an alcohol swab, and then plunged the needle into his right thigh muscle.
I stood back, anxiously waiting for his response, which happened within just a minute or two. His color improved, and his breathing slowed down. He blinked his eyes a few times, and I nodded to Patty to retake his vital signs.
“Blood pressure’s up to 90 over 60, pulse 90, respirations 22.”
I felt his forehead. It was warmer. “Feeling better?” I asked.
He smiled. “I am.”
It was my turn to smile.
“Do you mind if his wife comes back to sit with him?” Beth asked. “She’s in the waiting room.”
“It’s up to Mr. Autrey.”
“Just call me Dan,” he said. “If Boots can come back, that would be great.”
I turned to Beth. “Let’s give him another 50 milligrams of oral Benadryl and an injection of 10 milligrams of dexamethasone.” Beth nodded, and I explained to Dan: “Benadryl is an antihistamine, and the shot is a steroid. Both will help keep your reaction to the venom at bay. Since you’re better, I’m going to see another patient or two, and then I’ll be back in to check on you.”
When I returned to the treatment room, Dan was sitting up on the procedure table. He no longer looked deathly ill. At his side, holding his hand, was a beautiful woman who appeared to be younger. They were both gazing out the window.
My office sat on the top of a hill overlooking Bryson City, North Carolina, her nine hundred citizens, two stoplights, and thirty-eight Baptist churches, as well as a half-dozen churches of other denominations. To the north was a mesmerizing view up Deep Creek Valley into the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with mile after mile of one distant peak after another, all sporting petticoats of wispy clouds that looked like puffs of smoke—thus the origin of the term the Smoky Mountains. The setting was spectacular. I never grew tired of admiring the astonishing panorama.
After I introduced myself, she replied, “I’m Boots Autrey.”
“Where are you from?” I was sure they weren’t from Swain County, and Floridians inhabited—some locals said infested—the Autrey’s development and a few other small neighborhoods in the Bryson City area.
“We’re from a small town in Central Florida called Kissimmee. It’s near Disney World. We come up here off and on during the year.”
“My wife, Barb, and I honeymooned at Disney World.”
This comment seemed to spark Boots’ interest. “Did you like it?”
“We did. We thought it was a great place to . . . er . . . visit!”
She looked at me. “It’s also a great place to live. Why don’t you come to practice in our small town? We need more family doctors. And I can tell you, you’d have no problem building a practice down there.”
“Tell you what,” I said, smiling. “If the Lord ever leads us away from this little piece of heaven, I’ll give you all a call.”
“It’s a deal!” Boots responded.
“Here’s a prescription for an antihistamine for Dan to take over the next three days and another for an epinephrine pen to keep at the house. I’ll have Beth give you instructions on how and when to use it.
After they left, Beth breathed a sigh of relief. “What a dramatic way to start the day! But you did good, Dr. Larimore.” That was how the local nurses would compliment a doctor—and high praise for one just starting practice.
I thought, What if I had not done “good”? What if Dan had not made it? It would have been terrible PR. Everyone knew the local gossip mills in small towns could work for or against you.
A wiser voice inside chided, But how can you think only of yourself? This is not about your reputation! It’s about serving others the best way possible, and you just did that in spades. Well done.
Part of me felt confident, competent, and capable—the part that thought I was a moral man, a helpful husband, a fine father, and a decent doctor. But another part of me was full of self-doubt and insecurity. The arguments between my two parts always produced internal strife, turning my soul into their personal battlefield. They never agreed to a truce; both refused to raise a white flag or declare a cease-fire. The battle was ever ongoing.
I tried to keep the positive part and banish the negative, but both stayed; one on each shoulder, battling and bickering. One reminded me, Do you remember what your grandfather used to say? It’s never wrong to do what’s right! The other countered, Don’t be impractical. Doing what’s right is almost always the more difficult road. Take it easy on yourself!
It reminded me of how the apostle Paul described his relentless battle. I took some comfort in knowing he wrestled with these same internal voices. “If the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. . . . Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” Then his stronger side said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I just needed to depend more upon Yahweh and less on my way.
A few weeks later, Dan and Boots showed their appreciation for my staff and me by hosting a dinner at one of the more lovely restaurants in town. As we entered the historic Fryemont Inn, music from the 1940s filled the grand dining room. Wide maple plank flooring original to the 1923 building creaked pleasantly under our feet while large dark chestnut timbers supported the vaulted ceiling. In front of an enormous stone fireplace was a massive table, dressed with a white tablecloth, flatware, and bouquets of colorful flowers separated by scented candles. A smorgasbord of delightful sensations accompanied the warmth of the room—the welcoming fragrance and sounds of a crackling fireplace mingled with the delicious, yeasty, sweet smell of hot, buttered, and freshly baked cathead biscuits piled high on the table.
As we gathered, a tall, debonair man walked in with Dan and Boots and introduced himself. “I’m Kevin Cole. I’m chairman of the Board of Trustees of Humana Hospital Kissimmee. I am up here on vacation with my kids, traveling around the Smokies in an RV. Boots told me how you saved Dan’s life.”
Before I could object, he continued, “So I asked for permission to drop by and introduce myself. Our hospital board is looking for a few excellent family physicians to come to Kissimmee. If you are ever in the mood to move to one of the most perfect small towns in America, I’m the one that can make it happen.” He extolled the virtues of his hospital and community in Central Florida and ended saying he would fund our meal from the hospital’s recruiting budget.
My sinister side thought, Floridians! They come up here in the good weather, buy up our land, and run up our prices. Then they leave in winter. And they don’t know how to drive on mountain roads. Nothing worse than needing to get somewhere and getting stuck behind a Floridian!
From my other shoulder, another voice reminded me, Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body, so I thanked him for his generosity.
“I’d love to stay,” he added, “but the kids are in the RV eager for more adventure. I hope to see you in Kissimmee.”
I doubted we would ever meet again.
During dessert, Boots leaned over to Barb and me and whispered, “You all really do need to consider our hometown. Kissimmee is not too far from Orlando. It’s small, although larger than Bryson City, and has incredible people, hearty congregations, and exemplary schools. Descendants of pioneers inhabit our county. They’re wonderful salt-of-the-earth kinda folks. We’d love to have more family doctors there. I hope you’ll consider it. We’d cover your expenses to relocate and set up a practice! And since Dan once owned the Ford dealership, you’d never lack for suitable transportation. How about it?”
Barb and I smiled at each other. It was our first experience with what we learned was Boots’s renowned persuasive charms. “It pleases me you’d want us there. But living in the Smoky Mountains is a joy. We love the people, the natural environment, the clean air and water, our church, and our new practice.”
Boots continued, “There’s stunningly beautiful country down in Osceola County. Large lakes with big ole bass and great fishing. Oak trees and Spanish moss. No snow or ice. A wonderful place to raise a family and build a career. You’d love it!”
“We look forward to raising our daughter, Kate”—I reached over to touch Barb’s bulging tummy—“and her sibling here in western North Carolina. It’s heaven for us.”
Boots smiled and patted my arm. “Well, I can understand. There are many reasons tourists visit in the warmer months. But if the dreary winters and endless days without sunshine get to you, you’d be welcome in Osceola County. Our weather is gorgeous all year!”
I cocked my head at her. “Do you work for the Chamber of Commerce down there?”
Dan laughed. “She should, Dr. Larimore. She should!”
Boots chuckled as I thought, Florida is the last place I’d want to live!
My other side countered, Are you sure? Could those be what they call famous last words?
As the mountain folk say, “Don’t sell the hide before you shoot the bear.”
Chapter 2 – First Day
Dawn was breaking as I sat under a massive southern live oak tree. Barb and the kids were still fast asleep as I breathed in the scents from the honeysuckles planted around the deck of our rental house and the exquisite bouquet of my first cup of freshly ground coffee. Looking at my watch, I quickly swigged the last sip of coffee before dashing out the door to drive to the hospital. I remembered our over-six-hundred-mile move from Bryson City to Kissimmee in late 1985, just four years after meeting the Autreys. The circumstances leading to our departure from North Carolina had been agonizing and arduous after learning about the abuse of our children by someone we trusted.
Although only in our early thirties, we had wondered if we had the wherewithal to start over again. Nevertheless, Dan and Boots not only made it happen but also were there to comfort Barb and me every step of the way and in more ways than we could count during our traumatic transition. Besides serving with Kevin Cole on the committee that recruited us, they were there to help smooth the stress and strain of moving to a new community with two young children: six-year-old Kate and three-year-old Scott. They helped us find and move into a small, comfortable rental home in which we lived for six months while sizing up the various areas where we could buy a home.
Dan introduced me to the Rotary Club (where Kevin served as president), the Chamber of Commerce, the Silver Spurs Riding Club, which hosted Kissimmee’s twice-a-year rodeo, and many of his friends. Boots made sure Barb met folks and knew of the various church and Bible study options. They honored me beyond measure by becoming two of my very first patients. I always enjoyed our professional and social visits.
I hopped in my old rusty-brown GMC pickup truck. Both it and my marriage had begun life the same year—1973. It had been my daddy’s, and I loved that old truck. It was a short, three-mile-and-one-traffic-light commute to my first day at Humana Hospital Kissimmee. It had been founded as Osceola General Hospital in 1933 by a Canadian, Wilson Lancaster, MD.
As I approached the doctor’s parking lot, my new partner, John Hartman, MD, was waiting at the gate. He waved to me and then placed a card over a sensor. The arm rose, and he showed me where to park. Truth be told, my old truck looked humble against the array of expensive, brand-spanking-new cars. The doctors were doing very well.
John scowled as the parking gate arm remained up. “It should close automatically. Guess I’ll report that,” he grumbled. He turned to give me a warm hug. As we walked toward the ER entrance, John commented, “It’s been seven years since I greeted you this same way at Durham County General Hospital. Gosh, it seems so long ago.”
During my internship at Duke, in Durham, North Carolina, John had been my senior resident and helped orient me at the hospital and in becoming a doctor. Leaving residency two years before me, John served with the navy, teaching in a family medicine residency at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Then, he and Cleta, his wife, and their three young daughters had moved to Kissimmee to begin practice, setting up three years before we arrived.
We approached the ER door, where a doctor was having a smoke break. “Ken, this is my new partner, Walt Larimore. Walt, this is Ken Byerly, one of the best ER docs around.” We shook hands and went inside for a whirlwind tour.
Jim Shanks, the six-foot, six-inch, handsome, and well-dressed hospital administrator gave the tour. Even though the hospital had only eighty beds and a six-bed ICU, it looked enormous compared to the hospital in Bryson City. The pediatric wing, nursery, and maternity care suites were modern and well-appointed. We passed the front desk, and after meeting the pink ladies volunteering that day, turned to meet the hospital switchboard operator.
“Dolly, meet our newest doctor.”
Dolly stood and flashed a gleaming smile. “Dr. John has said some nice things about you. Welcome.”
Her warm greeting was with a voice made for radio. No wonder she’s the operator, I thought. She turned to answer an incoming call as Jim excused himself. John and I went to the doctor’s lounge to complete paperwork and take a staff photo for my ID card.
As we were having a cup of coffee, I heard Dolly’s voice over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, would the person who parked the old brown GMC pickup truck in the doctors’ parking lot move it at once or the police will ticket and tow it.” As my face flushed and John laughed, she repeated the message.
“Why don’t you go take care of that, Walt,” John said. “Dolly can find me when you’re done.”
In the parking lot, a police officer was talking to a physician in surgical scrubs and a white coat. “I think I’m the offender you’re looking for, gentlemen.”
“I’m Officer Gib Vicars,” the policeman said. “Is this your truck?”
“This lot is for doctors only. If you move it to the visitors’ lot, I won’t have to ticket you.”
“I am a doctor.”
Before I could explain, the physician interrupted. “I’m Dr. Gonzales. I know all the doctors, but I don’t know you!”
“He’s mine!” a voice behind us shouted. We all turned to see Jim Shanks striding toward us. “Pete, Gib, this is our newest doctor. You guys can’t haul him off to jail. We need him.”
The men chuckled.
“He’s here today completing all the forms and procedures.”
“Well, that explains why you don’t have a parking sticker,” Dr. Gonzales said.
“Walt, Officer Vicars is one of Kissimmee’s finest,” Jim explained. “When he was an athlete at Osceola High not too very long ago, he was one of the best in the state.”
Gib blushed and looked down.
“Dr. Pete Gonzales is our chief of staff and one of the best surgeons around. He also is the head physician for our ER, the EMTs, as well as the police and fire departments.”
Pete turned to the officer. “Officer Vicars, sorry for the trouble. We’ll take it from here.”
“No trouble at all, Dr. Gonzales.” Gib turned and shook my hand. “Welcome to Kissimmee, Doctor. I look forward to working with you.”
“Pete, you mind walking Walt in?” Jim asked. “I’ve got to run and meet a family.”
Pete nodded. As we walked back into the hospital, Pete apologized.
“Not a problem.” I asked about his background. He was a first-generation Filipino American, a general surgeon, a US Army Reserve colonel, and a decorated Vietnam MASH surgeon. He mentioned how he admired and enjoyed working with Dr. Hartman and had been looking forward to meeting me.
“John told me you were instrumental in his getting his hospital privileges,” I said.
“That’s true, but not just me. Jim Shanks and Kevin Cole also went to bat for you guys in front of the hospital board of directors and before the medical staff. In the past, we’ve only had specialists and GPs here. John and two other young doctors were the first residency-trained, board-certified family physicians that applied for privileges. Most of our doctors have not worked with FPs. I wasn’t surprised that a few of the Ob-Gyns weren’t sure they wanted FPs delivering babies. None of the pediatricians were open to your ilk being in what they saw as their nursery or pediatric wing. And don’t get me started on the ICU doctors. I thought they would have heart attacks when they learned FPs wanted to take care of patients in their ICU. Thank goodness we have that straightened out.” After looking up and down the hall, he leaned toward me and whispered, “But don’t screw it up. I spent a lot of political capital fighting for those guys, and by extension, you. I can’t afford for you to make some silly mistake. So, I have some advice for you.”
“I’d suggest being liberal getting consults for a while. That way, you get to know the subspecialists, and they’ll get used to you. I’ve reviewed your recommendations from residency and Bryson City. I’ve called and talked to the folks you’ve worked with over the last few years. They speak highly of you.”
He took a half step back and looked up at me over crossed arms. “I want to be able to do the same. Understand?”
“There’s one other item I need to broach with you. It’s sensitive. May I?”
“Of course,” I said, wondering what might be next.
“It’s that truck of yours. As you likely noticed, the doctors here don’t drive trucks. Wranglers and ranchers do. Farmers and cowboys do. Doctors do not. There is a professional image we need to uphold and maintain. Is that understood?”
I was dumbfounded and speechless. I loved my truck!
“My brother owns a car dealership in Orlando. I’ll call him and get a Mercedes delivered to you later today or tomorrow. Knowing you’re just starting a practice, it will be pre-owned. But it will be in perfect condition. Then, once you’re making a decent income, he’ll get a brand-new leased one for you each year. Or he can get you two if your wife needs one. She doesn’t drive a truck, also, does she?”
I chuckled. “No, sir. She most definitely does not.”
“What color do you want?”
I had no idea. “Blue,” was all I could think to say. It was my favorite color.
“Let’s go get a cup of coffee, and then I’ll show you my surgical suites.”
“Are you the only surgeon?”
Pete’s eyebrows furrowed. “Of course not,” he said, leaning toward me, “but I am the best.”
As I was to learn over time, this was not bragging, but a fact.
Chapter 3 – Gonna Like Him
After finishing my tour with Dr. Gonzales, I caught up with John on the medical wing, and we made rounds together. He introduced me to his patients, now our patients, the staff, and the nurses, including Judy Simpson, who was the charge nurse for the shift. A perky, outgoing blonde, she observed, “Dr. Larimore, you look too young to be a doctor. Are you still in college?”
People often kidded me about my boyish looks, but not usually at a first meeting. I replied, “My grandchildren say the same thing.”
Judy looked confused. “You have grandchildren?”
I shook my head. “Just kidding,” I said as we all laughed.
John commented, “Judy, when are you coming to work with me at my office?” He looked at me. “I’ve been trying to hire her as my nurse since I got here. She’s considering it.”
“Only if she turns me down,” said a gruff voice behind us.
We turned to see a tall, stocky Hispanic man in surgical scrubs with a five o’clock shadow, and it was still midmorning. “You must be the new guy.” He stuck out his large hand. “I’m Frank Crespo, the best urologist you’ll ever meet.”
“He’s the best one here in Kissimmee,” John said.
Crespo let out a booming laugh. “Because I’m the only one in town. Gotta go,” he said as he turned. “The OR beckons.”
“Humble, eh?” I noted.
“Not in the slightest,” John replied.
Judy added, “If you bought him for what he was worth and sold him for what he thought he was worth, you’d make a fortune. He’s said to be the richest doctor in the community. Heck, his automobile costs more than most people’s houses, his monthly mortgage is more than our annual ones combined, and he seems to take great pride in showing off his many expensive possessions.”
John laughed. “Well, he’s brash, arrogant, cocky, flashy, flamboyant, and worldly. And he’s self-assured, that’s for sure, but he’s a fabulous urologist, a great technician in the OR, and a good friend.”
Judy leaned toward us. “Dr. Hartman, maybe I will consider coming over to the office and chatting with you. Shift work at the hospital is getting old—like me!”
“You don’t look like you’ve had a birthday in . . . ten years!” John exclaimed.
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she said, laughing, as she turned back to her work. “And you’ve got patients to see.”
John oriented me to the charting system and some clinical processes. At one nurses’ station, Mr. Shanks walked in and greeted each of the nurses and ward clerks by name, inquiring about work and their families. As he was walking out, he stopped by the doctors’ charting area.
“I was hoping to find you guys as I practiced my ambulatory management,” he said, smiling.
“What’s that?” I asked. “I’ve never heard the term.”
He nodded. “I manage by walking around. Most hospital administrators never leave their executive suite. They are too aloof or arrogant to do so. I love my staff; I love visiting with them at least once each shift.”
“Sometimes when I’m here at night, Jim will be here visiting with his staff,” John said.
“It allows me to sense the pulse of my hospital and people, and it allows me to address their issues and concerns long before they become my problems.”
I remembered a night on call during my first month as a family medicine resident at Duke. We had an abnormally high number of admissions. My stress and anxiety level were sky-high as it was hard enough learning how to be a doctor, how to navigate in a new hospital and use a new medical record system, where things were located, and many new names and faces—and to keep so many spinning plates from crashing to the floor. On top of all this, I was on my fourth admission, with several waiting to be seen. A hand rested on my shoulder, and a reassuring voice said, “I’ve heard you guys were getting creamed. How can I help?” It was my residency director, Terry Kane, MD. He had left the nurses a message to call him if any of his interns got too busy or overwhelmed so that he could come in and help. My admiration for his care and caring was enormous.
When Barb and I had interviewed at Duke, John and Cleta had shown us around. When they introduced us to Terry, John had said, “You’re gonna really like Terry.”
I could understand how Jim’s staff must have felt when he did the same for them.
“Hey, John,” Jim said. “I’d like to make a recording that we could use in our radio advertising to let people know more about family docs. Would that be okay?”
“I’d be happy to,” John replied.
Jim reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small voice recorder. “Is now okay?”
John nodded, so Jim turned on the recorder and spoke into it. “I’m here with John R. Hartman, MD, one of Kissimmee’s residency-trained and board-certified family physicians. Dr. Hartman, in a sentence or two, why are you a family physician?”
John didn’t even hesitate. “For me, this was the only pathway. I wanted to be a physician who cares for the family. I love family medicine because of its breadth. Every day is different. It is nice to care for patients of all ages and to be able to tell them that I have a 90–95 percent chance of being able to help them. And if I can’t, I’ll help them find the care they need. I get great joy being the doctor who can care for the whole person and their entire family.”
Jim smiled. “One more question, if I may. Here at the hospital, the feds foist more and more regulations on us, making my life more difficult every year. Does the government make it harder for physicians also?”
“It certainly does!” John exclaimed. “But one thing they can’t steal is the joy of practicing family medicine. It’s a unique opportunity to help people, their families, and the community. The gleam in a patient’s eye or their smile at the end of the encounter is a more valuable payment to me than the check they write when they leave. My reward is seeing the thanks in their eyes.”
Jim smiled and clicked off the recorder. “That was perfect.” Now I just need to write some copy to go along with this in the newspaper.
“Oh,” I said. “I might have something.” I pulled out my wallet. “My wife found this somewhere while we were in Bryson City. Maybe it would work.” I unfolded a small piece of paper and handed it to him.
Jim read, “If it creaks, cramps, cries, eats, stings, smarts, swells, twists, twinges, burps, burns, aches, sticks, twitches, crumbles, or hurts, we’ve got just the doctor for you.” He smiled. “This is perfect. Do you know the source?”
I shook my head.
“I’m gonna use it. I’ll just add, ‘Choose one of our board-certified, residency-trained family physicians. They provide primary care and primary caring for you and your entire family.”
“It’s perfect,” John said. “I like it.”
“Me too,” I added.
“Sounds good. I think it’s great. Well, I need to shove off. Welcome, Dr. Larimore.”
As Jim strode down the hall, John commented, “He loves his people and most of his doctors.”
Judy walked by and added, “That’s just one of the many reasons we love that man so much. You’re gonna really like him too.”
Chapter 4 – Different Drummers
The next day, John and I began a habit that would continue for a decade and a half. At about 10:00 a.m. each office day, our office manager, Susan Mongillo, would herd us to the break room. We shared a cup of coffee, a joke or two, and something about our family lives or interesting patients. Then we’d have a short prayer. Rarely did I not learn something from this remarkable man. He was intensely tuned to a different channel in life and had a unique focus—different from most physicians.
John’s center point and north star were the things of the Lord. Many physicians prioritize pleasures, possessions, and power. Some who have religious or spiritual tendencies consider godly goals as an add-on to life. But John chose a narrower path. He never missed daily Mass and would tell me, “It’s my time to recenter on what’s important in the creation and the cosmos.” He was an avid student of Scripture. In short, his life was God-centered.
As a young man, John wanted to become a priest—at least until he met and married Cleta. After college, he began a career as an electrical engineer but sensed a call to become a family physician. In Kissimmee, he built a small, successful, patient-centered, and God-focused practice. He would often say, “I like to practice by the Book—the Word of God and its principles.” To me, my family, and my patients’ eternal benefit, John invited me to join him on a marvelous professional and personal journey together.
When patients and people in our community saw John put God and church ahead of personal gain and pleasure, they sometimes said, “He marches to the beat of a different drummer!”
He would respond, “So be it. I can’t wait to introduce them to the drummer.”
One morning, when I stepped out of a patient room, Susan was waiting for me in the hallway. “I need to show you something.” She nodded her head for me to follow. We exited through the back door of the office and there, sitting next to my daddy’s truck, was a shiny, blue Mercedes Benz sedan.
A large Filipino man introduced himself as Pete’s brother and handed me the keys. “These are for you.”
“Do I need to sign anything?”
“No, sir. Pete and my people took care of everything—license, title, plates, registration, and insurance. It’s yours for a ninety-day trial. No charge, no commitment. If for any reason you don’t like it, just call me, and we can take it back or trade it in for another.”
After we all went on a test drive, Pete’s brother left. As Susan and I walked back into the office, she explained, “I think Dr. Gonzales does this with all the new docs. What ’cha gonna do? Keep it?”
I chuckled. “I have never driven, much less owned, an expensive automobile. Although I must admit, it drove like a dream.”
“It was plush and comfortable and amazing,” Susan said.
I nodded. “But I don’t think it’s me.”
“Why not?” she asked as we entered the staff lounge and poured cups of coffee.
“I grew up in a family with simple tastes. We had no luxuries. My parents taught my three brothers and me to ‘dress down’ and not to show off. We weren’t wealthy financially, but we were healthy, happy, and well cared for. Above all else, we boys knew our parents loved us. Our mom and dad’s priorities were faith, family, and friends. Our lack of money growing up made us depend on each other, appreciate and respect each other, and support and fight for one another. We had everything that counted. That’s an upbringing from which I don’t think I’ll escape—nor do I want to.”
“So, I guess you’re not going to keep it, eh?”
“Nope. But it might be nice to drive for a few days.”
She smiled. “Don’t blame you.”
“Did Dr. Gonzales get one for Dr. John?”
Susan nodded. “Of course, but he didn’t keep his either. I think you two are cut out of the same cloth.”
What a nice compliment, one side of me said. Just wait till she gets to know the real you, said the other. That one reminded me of my grandfather, who always asked, “Is your juice worth the squeeze?” I could only hope mine was!
With apologies to Pete and his brother, I returned the vehicle two weeks later. I prized and drove my dad’s truck for the next fifteen years. Kate and Scott learned to drive in that trusty rust bucket. When Scott, as a teenager, drove that junker around town, everyone knew it was him. In fact, he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. I’d like to think it kept him out of a lot of temptation and trouble.
At 2:00 a.m. one morning, racing to the hospital to deliver a baby, I rolled through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop. I didn’t see Officer Vicars in his police car across the street, waiting to catch the frequent speeders or stop-sign runners that endangered that intersection. By now, he knew my truck. I began to slow down to pull off the road, when he popped out of his car, a gleaming smile unfolding, and waved me on.
Although he let my infraction slide, someone else did not.
That week John invited me to attend Rotary Club with him as a visitor. During the meeting, it delighted Chief Frank Ross of the Kissimmee Police Department to mention what happened that week, and club president, Kevin Cole, immediately fined me the excessive amount of five dollars for the transgression.
“You can’t fine him!” John protested.
“Why not?” Kevin asked.
“He’s not a member!”
“Then, I’ll fine you!” Kevin proclaimed.
The entire room guffawed and applauded. I felt welcome and not more so than when John happily walked up front to pay for my transgression.
“Welcome to the team,” he said, smiling, as he returned. “I guess this officially makes us partners in the eyes of these old-timers. And that’s a good thing, trust me!”
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away.”
Early on in our practice, it pleased me to realize that John and I were going to dance to the same tune together.