Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

4th of July Craic: Sunday musings…7/7/19

1) Craic. Irish word for “good times”.

Had ‘em in spades this week.

2) Lakeside. After 2 frustrating years of mostly lake watching rather than lake using we just spent the better part of a week in and on Lake Erie. My quite beautiful bit of nautical lawn art (refurbished ’71 Whaler) finally got wet again, at least for a little bit. Our pier, so badly damaged by historically high lake levels was repaired, along with our secondary sea wall, in time for friends and family to frolic.

The craic ran at all-time high levels as well.

3) Family. What it means to be family is tricky sometimes. For us, at least in the closest family circles, it’s pretty straightforward. That’s more than a bit of a blessing, but as I’ve gotten older it has become  more clear that family is less about the genetics of lineage and more about the expression of love and caring. Beth and I played a small role in raising a fine young man who was not born into our family. And yet our weekend was missing him just as much as it was missing our oldest son. Both Dan and his little (and growing!) family and Alex were in Colorado while we hosted Megan (and Ryan) and Randy and his little family for the weekend.

Family resides as much in our heart as it does in our genes.

4) Dress code. There is a budding non-controversy in a little corner of the CrossFit world. (What? You thought I was never going to muse about CrossFit again? Silly panda) 2010 CrossFit Games Men’s Champion  Graham Holmberg owns a box somewhere in the greater Columbus, OH area. He very recently announced a dress code for his gym which can be adequately summarized as one which asks for “modesty” in the attire of exercising athletes there. Holmberg is well-known within the greater CrossFit community–check that, within those who became aware of CrossFit prior to, say, 2015 or so–as a deeply devout Christian. (One should note for completeness sake that multi-time Games champion Rich Froning is as well). He is asking that his gym’s members adhere to a dress code that comports with his religious leaning.

What’s the big deal?

Holmberg’s box is a private business that is patronized by paying clients who can choose to be there, or not. He will either learn that his clients are aligned with his worldview, or not. This is no different than the owner of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle who expounds on the virtue of her “rainbow festooned” box, clearly signaling her version of “modesty” through her welcoming of a clientele that might prove troubling to Homlberg. She invokes a politically fraught term to denigrate his decision, calling it a “dog whistle”. Frankly, I find her repeated notes of her rainbows as no more or less a “dog whistle” for her audience than “modesty” would be for Holmberg’s. These are both small business owners who are planting a flag for a particular type of business while at the same time signaling that they are less welcoming of another clientele.

That is precisely why this is a non-controversy: this is commerce. Holmberg and the Rocket owner run private enterprises in which their decisions will determine the relative success of those businesses. This is neither an example of government or elected officials seeking to impose their worldview on a heterogenous public, nor is it an example of a religious group such as the Amish insisting on dressing their children “plain” regardless of their age or desire. Who knows if Holmberg has his finger on the pulse of as much of his community of potential clients as Rocket does in Seattle. We know that at least one of his members disagrees since an internal membership email found its way to the chatternet so quickly. There will be a natural consequence to his dictum which will be whatever it will be.

For whatever it’s worth I hardly ever took my shirt off at Comet, CF Bingo, or any of the other boxes I’ve visited over the years, mostly to spare my fellow gym goers the pain of looking at my soft, pasty white middle. Still, it would bug me to have my attire regulated or my worldview assaulted at a place I visited for refuge and rejuvenation. I would vote with my wallet and my feet. If I wanted a work out space that was solely dedicated to making me feel as comfortable as possible I would open my own box.

The larger issue for me is the “sign of the Apocalypse” feeling this gives me about the evolution of CrossFit as a “thing”, a movement. Once upon a time that which we shared (CrossFit) was much more important than those things about which we may have disagreed. Go back and read some of the early Rest Day conversations. Posters went for the throat on everything except WCABTMD and FMPRHC. After every Rest Day everyone “showed up” and did the WOD. In the few CrossFit gyms scattered around the U.S. you had warfighters doing “Fran” side-by-side with LGBT activists. Loud and proud Progressives and Conservatives supported each other through “Murph”. When you went to the box you suffered alongside the real, live person who held a set of beliefs, and you interacted with your fellow CrossFitter, not his or her beliefs or worldview.

Because both of you could only see the next rep or the next round.

Where CrossFit was a refuge precisely because you were united by your identity as a CrossFitter, CrossFit is the lesser for this trend of gyms catering to the like-minded who happen to be gathering to do CrossFit. It is the equivalent to the difference between a wine tasting and a party at which you happen to be drinking wine; at the former you are there for the wine. CrossFit gyms were once about CrossFit. CrossFit was what you shared. CrossFit was what brought you there. The proliferation of CrossFit gyms has allowed for the segmentation of the CrossFit exercising population along both fitness (strength vs. endurance; health vs. competition) and social lines. Gyms have always had “personalities” that followed that of the owner/founder that attracted some and made others look elsewhere for their dose. Though YMMV, that these “personalities” hue so closely to established social movements thus making “that which we already share” a more important label than CrossFitter is for me a net negative in the continuing evolution of the greater CrossFit movement.

Still, this is commerce; the market will let the owners know if they have an issue.

From my little garage gym, I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…6/30/19

Sunday musings (lots to catch up on)…

1) Fonder. Absent last week. Never got to the keyboard. Miss me?

2) Timmy. Our little manster Tiny Tim passed away last fall. He was a great dog. Attached as if by velcro to Beth. He visited me last night in my dreams so vividly that when I awakened it was if my arms and my lap were still warmed by his soft, fuzzy body. It was a happy awakening.

I really miss our little floofball.

3) Savage. Did you know that Fred Savage from The Wonder Years is 42 years old? Not a typo. 42! I’m not really sure why this is so striking; I didn’t really watch the show and all.

Still, Fred Savage is 42 years old. Whoa.

4) Washing machine. Fun little article on hanging clothes to dry outside in this weekend’s WSJ. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw that outside of the beach. The whole washing and drying of clothes is yet another part of “the world is way better than we admit” thing I’ve touched on in recent months. For the price of a little electricity households are freed from the chore of washing and drying their clothes by hand.

Admit it. Unless you’ve done much travel in 3rd world countries or the whole bohemian backpack thing, you haven’t washed anything by hand in years. Maybe your whole life.

This does bring into play a few 1st world problems. Our washer drum is putting rust spots on our whites. Beth just ordered a new one to be delivered and installed on the 4th (in the middle of our party!). Top or front load I asked. Answer: “Top. The whole front load thing is annoying.”

There you have it.

5) PT. I threw on a backpack and took a walk to our local liquor store yesterday afternoon. Crazy good place that store. Anyway, I loaded up the back pack with “provisions” weighing ~20 lbs and walked on home. Only 2.5 months out from my hip replacement the extra load was actually pretty noticeable. Now when people ask what I’m doing for PT I have a new, and utterly perfect answer:

I’m a rum runner!

6) Words. How we express ourselves in the words we choose can make a difference in what others hear if we do, in fact, have the ability to choose. Those hearing us should extend  goodwill in that the vast majority of people speak with honorable intent. Still, when it is obvious that a choice has been made to alter a common speech pattern or phrasing it is heartwarming; the effort should be called out and those who made the effort applauded. A very important example, one that I have mentioned often, is to describe a suicide as “death by suicide” or killed by suicide”, opting to drop “committed” and all it carries.

So here’s to MLB and its tiny but meaningful gesture of changing the name of the list of players unable to play from the “disabled list” to the “injured list”, removing a possible cause of discomfort from affecting a vulnerable population. Bravo.

7) Equality. As I approach 60 I am frequently drawn back to times, places and people from the past. White privilege is a theme that is quite in the news of late. Other than being white it’s been rather hard to see how I’ve been otherwise privileged. Certainly I have never felt the sting of real discrimination based on the color of my skin; if privilege is simply the absence of discrimination then I have been thus privileged. But as I’ve written in the past my Dad grew up quite poor, and our very lower middle-class life in the earliest days of our family was remarkably similar in almost all ways to that of a super-majority of the families in the town where I was born.

Why was that? Southbridge was notably short of not only the truly rich, but even the upper-middle class. As far as I can remember there was only really one rich family (the Wells family owned American Optical, the big employer) who literally no one ever saw, and precisely one neighborhood that stood out. And that only because the lots were a little bigger. My memory is that the houses themselves were pretty much just like those in the rest of the town. Nobody took fancy vacations or traveled to exotic locations. Little League shut down when AO closed for 2 weeks in July, and everyone went to the local lakes. In my memory almost every family in town who wanted to belonged to the little 9 hole country club if Dad played golf.

What was really extraordinary was how it felt to be a kid in school. I have no memory of anyone standing out based on any type of affluence or wealth. The kids who had cars had them because they were car-centric families. Those of us who did not (my siblings and I were not allowed to own our own cars in high school and college) didn’t because our families just didn’t have cars for the kids. There are no memories of stratification based on the clothes we wore in school. In fact my only memory about clothes was how I felt because of our own family’s very strict dress code for school. No bellbottoms or blue jeans in school, and we could only wear sneakers on Friday. My hair never touched my ears or came within hailing distance of my collar. Remember, we’re talking the 60′s and 70′s here.

Although there was a regional Catholic high school in town almost no one went there despite the fact that at least 90% of us were Catholic. We all took French in school, even the children from Puerto Rican families for whom Spanish was the language spoken at home. Kids were “tracked” academically in those times; I spent each school day with pretty much the same 25 or so kids. In the hallways between classes you couldn’t distinguish which track a kid might be in, though. I was just as likely to be hanging out with a neighborhood buddy or a teammate with whom I never shared a classroom as I was to be walking with someone from math class. As I look back it seems remarkable.

For the boys at least, we all seemed to share our rites of passage on similar timelines. Sign up for Little League at 8. Basketball leagues started at the Y at age 10. We all played Pop Warner football in 7th and 8th grades. It surely seems like everyone I knew did all of that at the same time (girls sports were different in those pre-Title 9 days so my memories are skewed male, for sure). It seems like we all had our first beers and our first kisses within 12 months of each other, max. Despite obvious genetic differences in academic or athletic prowess we all seemed so much alike. There seemed to be so little that separated any of us from one another. I’ve often noted that the difference between the “good kids” and the “bad kids” may have been simply that the “good kids” didn’t get caught.

The White family moved on, moved to another state and another school system, and another way of life as my father became more and more successful. It was obvious that we now had more of at least some stuff, not least of which was house. There was a vast range of housing in our new town. Consequently there was a greater awareness of neighborhoods among everyone, including the kids. High school in the 70′s largely broke down this awareness and never let it be a barrier, but looking back that new town and new school were different. And I am left to wonder not why the new school was different (because I see now that it was actually more realistic and probably normal), but why my first school was really the one that stood apart.

In the end I believe that Southbridge in the 60′s and 70′s was different because of all the things that were the same. Everyone went to public schools. Most Moms stayed home. The only difference between Dads seemed to be whether they took their daily shower in the morning before work or at night after. Pretty much every household had the same philosophy on child raising, and consequently you were kinda parented by every parent in town. School was safe. We had only to behave there as we behaved at home and we were free to learn. Mostly we all had the same amount of nothing extra. Nothing that set us apart from one another. It seems that we only kept score in class and on the playing fields and had nothing to measure and to compete for otherwise.

Is this simply the rose-colored memory of a kid who was mostly successful in school? Maybe, but as my old school friend Jan pointed out yesterday I wasn’t really as successful socially as I was in the classroom and on the field. One wonders if anyone else who was there at the time has a similar memory. My sense from our conversation is that Jan might. Still, as someone who has since traveled  way up and way down the economic and social ladders, there was something there that I’ve not found anywhere else. It’s not obvious to me why that was.

My hope is that, having lived there and having experienced what I remember as an equality that was so natural and unexplored that it seems extraordinary and rare, that the greatest lesson I learned there is that it is always what we have in common that matters. And that we almost always have much more in common than not. Our default setting should always be set on “equal”.

I’ll see you next week…

The Lifelong Bond Between Caddies. Sunday musings…6/9/19

1) 27. Happy 27th Birthday to my doppelgänger Randy. Never fails to make me laugh when he laughs (or sneezes, or talks) and someone expects to see me.

2) Mom. Boy, my Mom and I made a spectacle of ourselves this weekend! I really wonder what folks thought about the wacky, age mismatched couple laughing uproariously at the bar on Friday night. The only one who “got” us was Cecelia, a ridiculously precocious 4 1/2 yo, a bat savant, who chatted up Mom at The Ice Cream Machine.

You had to be there.

3) Hip. Couple of milestones this weekend as I continue to recover from my total hip. I just finished my longest walk, 30 minutes, and I feel great. The lack of “athleticism” is weird, though. You know, that ability to just move on demand. Yeah, not there yet. The other milestone was setting off my first airport metal detector. Funny, it didn’t happen on the way out. Of course I left everything in my pockets (TSA pre-checked) and ending up getting the full, up close and personal experience when I went through the particle detector with my wallet in tow.

Air travel is not for sissies.

4) Sasha. What a gem our new little Aussie Shepherd is turning out to be. Our border collie Abby loves her, and Sasha is equally in love with her new big sister. You can’t help but feel great about coming home when your dog wags her (sorta) tail so hard her feet come off the ground.

Rescue your next dog so that it can rescue you.

5) Caddy. My caddy partner for the day was having a rough go of it. A bit older than the high school and college kids who filled the benches in the caddy shack, he was there to make a little extra cash while hanging out with his people, other caddies. His golfer was a handful. He’d been having a tough round and was not handling it very well. By the time we got to the 14th tee he’d thrown his club a dozen times. Of course, he duck hooks his tee shot out of bounds to the left and sends his club helicoptering 50 yards and into the gorse. The caddy looked at the gorse; he looked at the golfer. “I think you’re going to have to throw a provisional club Sir. I don’t think I’m going to be able to find that first one.”

Pretty sure that was his last loop, maybe ever.

Were you ever a caddy? In one of my older essays about my requirement that young physicians should spend time in their training working in an intensely personal customer service job I suggested that being a caddy would be an excellent assignment for interns before you let them take care of patients on their own. As a caddy you may be a better golfer than your boss, and you may very well know much more about the golf course than they do, but the only thing that matters is that you contribute to the enjoyment of the game for your boss that day, the golfer for whom you tote the bag.

Training for the ultimate consumer service job: doctor.

There is a very special bond between caddies who have worked together. Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor to connect with three men with whom I plied the links as kids, Christopher, Chris, and Michael. The brothers Bohac (Christopher and Michael) were two of three Bo’s who caddied when my brother and I were caddying, and Chris one half of a twin set who took their seats in the caddy shack alongside us. C Bo is now the director of course operations and assistant pro at the club we all worked for. The White brothers and the Bohac brothers were also junior members of the club as well. Chris, Christopher, and Michael were joined by a buddy for 18 and I rode a cart with them for a few holes of visiting.

If you think golfers are bad about telling the same stories over and over, hang out with a bunch of ex-caddies some time. Laugh? I don’t know how any of the guys got a ball airborne we were laughing so much for those 3 holes. You see, we caddied in a different time. A more innocent time, and frankly a less pretentious time, at least at our Dads’ club. We were famous for “caddy pranks”, stuff that the poor kids nowadays would never dream of trying. You always needed to keep a close eye on the caddies in the groups in front of and behind you lest a key club in your golfer’s bag go missing. I wish we had cell phone cameras back in the day just so we could have recorded a fellow caddy doing a front flip when his crossed straps caught him in the knees as he picked up his bags! Or a picture of Christopher’s bags hanging about 8 feet up in a fir tree when he was a junior caddy and made the mistake of leaving them right where his brother and I would be forecaddying on the next hole.

Poor “Chrissy” was only about 4’10 at the time.

So many caddies went on to become golfers. For sure the White and  Bohac brothers did. Both Chris and his bother Pat play. I like to think that all ex-caddies are as good to their caddies as my three buddies are. The fiercest ribbing came when a team hit their drives on the opposite sides of a fairway, a set-up that would make a caddy carrying double work extra hard. Indeed, what we learned on the golf course as caddies was not only how to provide service to a very particular individual, we also learned very valuable lessons about what kind of adult men we wished to be (note: there were no female caddies at our club; women golfers only rarely used caddies). Golf tends to accentuate essential characteristics of the golfer. Honor, or lack thereof. Courtesy and respect, or not. The difference between confidence and arrogance. Men for whom respect came naturally and men who tried to buy it. We saw it all. Being a caddy prepared me for pretty much all manner of adult male behavior as I moved through the stages of my education and career.

Many thanks to my old caddy buddies Christopher, Michael, and Chris for the warm welcome, the memories, and the laughs yesterday. For better or for best, I am who I am at least in part because my brother and I were caddies with you once upon a more (or less) innocent time.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…6/2/19

1) Nature. It’s messy. The Avon Lake eagles dined on duck this morning. Hoping it’s not one of the mallards who routinely dine at Casa Blanco.

2) Equus. I continue to marvel that the horse, in all of its various forms, has survived its introduction to humans. Indeed, one of the equestrians I accompanied to a show this weekend shares my amazement.

“We’re talking about a 1200 pound prey animal with a tongue bigger than its brain. How are they still here?”

3) Mookie. Bill Buckner, unfairly cast as one of the greatest goats (as opposed to GOATS) of all time for his error in game 6 of the 1986 World Series, passed away this week at the age of 69. He accepted his fault in the game changing error that allowed the Mets’ Mookie Wilson to reach first base and thereby drive in the winning run. Buckner handled the situation with grace and humor, at least publicly, for the rest of his life.

Mookie for his part held from the beginning and never wavered from his position that he would have beaten out the grounder even if Buckner had cleanly fielded the ball. Buckner you see was injured. “Of course I would have been safe; I had two good legs and he only had one.” I wonder, was Wilson offering Buckner an out? Allowing him space to shed the burden of prolonging the Red Sox Series jinx? Baseball is known not only for its characters but also for being the home for men of great character. Think Hank Aaron or Jim Rice in the latter category. Could it be that Mookie Wilson was an example of both?

That’s gonna be my take from now on. That Mookie Wilson offered a lifeline to a worthy competitor, one who was too proud to take it when he was alive. I hope Mr. Wilson never changes his story.

4) Loyalty. On Wednesday this week my long-time practice partner hung up his spurs. Scott and I worked hand-in-glove as eye doctors for 20 years. Ours was an amazing team. When I zigged so did he; when he zagged, so did I. No one had to tell me what he said to a patient we were sharing, and he knew without a shred of doubt exactly what I was going to say when it was my turn to address someone who’d come to see us. It took about 2 days to figure out that our partnership would work, and neither one of us gave a moment’s thought to the possibility that it wouldn’t for 20 years.

Everyone should have someone who works with them in whom they can bestow unquestioning trust. Scott was 100% loyal to the success of our enterprise. He treated me and each of our co-workers as if we were friends he’d had since grade school. If you laid the “extra miles” he went end to end you’d circle the globe a few dozen times. In world where business search, often in vain, for some sort of secret sauce to motivate their workers at all levels, the only time I ever gave any thought to motivation Scott was when I tried (in vain) to figure out some way to convince him that it wasn’t time to retire. No one ever worked harder with me or for me.

So it’s off to a well-deserved retirement for my friend Scott and his wife Bonnie, one likely filled with extended trips to visit their basketful of grandchildren and following their beloved Buckeyes. Years ago I dubbed him “the nicest man since Ghandi.” He stayed that way every day for 20 years. You never let yourself think what your day-to-day work life will be without someone like that bouncing through the door each day. Monday starts a new chapter for all of us at our little business.

A little bit of each of our hearts have been retired as well, wrapped around the heart  of the man who was the soul of SkyVision in a lasting, loving embrace.

I’ll see you next week…


Four Star Treatment

The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is one of my favorite places in all of the world. Tucked into a corner across the street from the casino, equi-distant from both the convention center and the French Quarter, it is an oasis of genteel service surrounded by a kind of institutional crassness. Just walking through the gate and seeing the fountain in the courtyard always makes me comfortable, makes me smile.

What I really love about the hotel, though, is that it is a place of exemplary service in which I can just act like myself. Do you ever go to a new restaurant or hotel that has a reputation for excellence, a place inhabited by a clientele with whom you might not regularly consort, and feel like you (and your behavior) are being judged by the staff? You find yourself trying to “live up to” the expectation of a waiter or concierge, inverting the service continuum because deep down you’re not really convinced you belong there. Somehow you have to “live up” to the place. You are there for them, rather than the other way around.

In my 30′s and 40′s I never, not for a single minute, had that sense in any situation whatsoever. I owned every room I walked into, no matter who was there or who was yet to arrive. Several major life events occurred in my 50′s which not only humbled me a bit, but also shook my core sense of worthiness. It’s as if those setbacks and challenges had somehow negated what my family and I had accomplished as we climbed out of the bitter poverty of my Dad’s youth. Even my wardrobe, classic and conservative almost by genetic decree, felt uncomfortable for a time. Funny, to find myself trying to impress a waiter, let alone another guest, as if I needed to prove I was worthy enough to be served.

The quiet, comfortable service given me as soon as I stepped out of the cab and was welcomed back to the Windsor Court has brought order back to the service continuum for me. In my day job I provide the service, and each of my clients deserves to assume that they are worthy of my very best. When I close up the shop at day’s end and head out I am now the client. Whatever room I enter is now once again mine. Tuxedo or tee shirt, my clothes fit me like a glove. Wherever I end up, I belong.

You do, too.

Bucket List Trips: Sunday musings…5/26/19

Anyone who has read any of my stuff will remember my angst filled year of turning 50, memorialize in “The Hard Turn at Mile Marker 49″. Last week, for whatever reason, it dawned on me that next January I will turn 60. No, this is not another whiny, self-absorbed description of my angst at that rather non-interesting discovery (of course, pretty much every entry here is, at the very least, somewhat self-absorbed). 2009 was a rather challenging year for me in many respects, but 2019 is actually pretty OK, thank you very much. I’m actually enjoying the vast majority of the minutes of my regular day-to-day life, way too much so to allow the thought of finishing another decade to intrude on the fun.

Beth and I have been talking quite a bit over the last little while about Bucket List travel. Hers, at least insofar as I understand it, is really pretty straightforward and logical; Beth would like to visit North Dakota and Alaska and thereby check off all 50 states in her lifetime of travel, and she would like to visit Scandinavia since that part of Europe is also a hole in her travelogue. We’ve talked about that quite a bit and have at least a rudimentary plan starting to take shape. I, on the other hand, have spent so little time even considering that I might maybe even HAVE a Bucket List of trips that I am literally and figuratively all over the map. Since my darling wife really and truly would like me to find happiness and joy around my 60th, my random and thus far totally unfocused “planning” is once again causing her to stress over my silly birthday.

Again, so not fair.

In my defense there are a couple of structural and logistical issues (I hesitate to call them barriers) that are involved in any discussion of travel around my birthday. To begin with, it’s in January. That would be winter in the northern hemisphere, and we have largely lost our love for wintery activity. We seek to leave our cold, dark and dank hometown each winter in search of blue sky sunny.  Sounds like a layup you might say. All of those classic south of the equator Bucket List destinations like Australia and New Zealand, Costa Rica and Belize are just there for the pickin’. Machu Pichu here we come, right? But I feel about these pretty much the way I feel about almost every other possible draft choice in the Bucket List lottery. They’d all be cool and all, but none of them make my heart skip a beat.

Our little slice of Heaven at Casa Blanco is simply lovely from June 1st until well after Labor Day. Treating myself to staycations of varying lengths has been one of the nicest gifts I’ve been able to give myself (might actually be a Bucket List item checked off). Taking trips away from home in the summer in many ways makes little sense since each day at home is like a tiny vacation during the summer. And yet there are destinations and trips that do interest me quite a bit that make all the sense in the world during the summer and the fall. I’ve never been to Italy or the French countryside. For 35 years or so I have been carrying on a passionate love affair with all things wine. The vineyards and wineries of the American Pacific Northwest have long been on my target list.

Is it still a milestone Bucket List birthday trip if you take it 9 months after your birthday?

My old college buddy John Starr has been on a fun little quest he has labels “Drinks Around the World”, regaling us all on Facebook with pictures of all manner of libations consumed in places both high and low. It looks like he’s having an absolute blast, and I will freely admit to more than a touch of envy when I see each of his Captain’s Log Entries from the field. This morning over our weekly bacon indulgence Beth suggested shorter but much more frequent, smaller trips, perhaps tied to late-published airline fare sales. As I’ve mulled this over (and over, and over…) this morning perhaps this idea (and John’s inspiration) is where my Bucket List actually comes to life.

In my mind I’m a great traveler. Even my choice in watches reflects this romantic notion of myself: I only buy dual or multi-timezone watches. You know, because at any moment I might up and hop on a plane and travel several time zones away and need to know what time it is at home. Silly, I know, but still, it always makes me smile when I look down at the face of a GMT watch and think about that. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it’s the act of travel and the freedom to be able to travel that’s actually the Bucket List item I am supposed to be checking off as I turn 60.

Yes, I think that might be it. I suppose it’s such a cliche that it’s almost painful, but my Bucket List may not be about the destinations at all, but about the journeys.

I’ll see you next week…

It’s Better Than You Think: Sunday musings…5/18/19

1) Cassowarrie: Enormous flightless bird from Australia. Possessor of a 4th claw which makes it the most dangerous bird in the world.

Run away, Forrest.

2) Toe-tagged. Another absolutely delightful phrase coming on the heels of last week’s “Furballed”. Means dead, or as good as dead. As in “toe-tagged Pimlico” where the ancient plumbing gave new meaning to the term “sloppy track” at yesterday’s Preakness. (HT Tim Layden)

The runs, Forrest.

3) Bodexpress. In this year of danger in horse racing what the sport needed was either a simple, clean race run at the Preakness, or a hero of some sorts. What it got was both. War of Will was once again ridden brilliantly by its jockey, guided tight to the rail and sprung through the opening that never materialized at Churchill Downs to win in 1 1/4 lengths. No fouls; no harm.

Yet the story is all about the number 9 horse, Bodexpress, who dumped his rider at the gate (the jockey was unhurt) and then proceeded to not only run the entire race alone, but also to take a “victory lap” before being corralled by an outrider. Thoroughbreds run because they love to run. One of the risks of having a riderless horse is that sometimes the horse gets in the thick of the race and tries to win. For a few moments it sure looked like Bodexpress was going to be that horse. Again, no fouls, no harm.

Someone should have wiped down his face, just to see what a horse smiley face looks like on the towel. Run Forrest, run.

4) Better. Our world is much better off than you have been led to believe by the media. Yes, a cursory look at incomes relative to inflation appears to show that we have “stagnated” since 1972. That our “buying power” is at best unchanged since that time. But if you look even a tiny bit closer at the economics involved you see that not only has our financial health actually improved, almost everything around us has, too.

Let’s take a quick look at where we live. In comparison with 1972 all but the most squalid of habitats in the U.S. have not only running water, but also have a dishwasher. Some 80% of homes are now air conditioned compared with something like 15%, and almost no abode is without not only a TV, but almost always a high definition flat screen TV. The percentage of homes in which there are 2 or more rooms for each person living there has increased something like 100X. While homelessness continues to be a maddeningly complex problem resistant to a solution, those who do have homes live in dramatically more hospitable circumstances than in 1972. Deaths from non-lifestyle disease continue to fall. If you avoid the dangers associated with various consumptive diseases (alcohol, obesity, opiates, etc.) your life-expectancy continues to rise.

Food has become less and less expensive, regardless of quality (whatever that may mean). Where once families spent upwards of 20% of their income on food it is now closer to 8 or 9%. We now have access to out of season fruits and vegetables year round, regardless of our zip code. Hunger, while not eradicated by any means, is now a very small problem in America. It has been replaced by something called “Food or hunger anxiety”, the fear of being hungry. We have more nutritious options at a lower cost relative to 1972. Functional clothing is another example of the same phenomenon.

What have we been purchasing with the money we are not spending on food and clothing? Well, you are reading this on an internet connected something or other that did not exist in 1972. The internet did not exist in 1972. You likely bought that something or other on line from a vendor that did not exist in 1972. In doing so you did not have to use your car, a car that by the way almost certainly is safer, pollutes less, and is more comfortable than all but the most exotic options in 1972; you cannot buy a car without air conditioning unless you are buying a race car. Those phones we are all attached to have more computing power than that used to land on the moon, even those that cost as little as $200. Some of your former food budget is now spent “connecting”.

We are continually told that we are falling behind. That we somehow can’t afford what we need. Somehow our current world is not as good as that in 1972 or 1955. Yet we actually have more. Much more, actually. Our baseline has risen magnificently in all ways for almost all Americans. By and large each one of us has what we need. More than what we need, actually. This prevailing angst that what we do for a living is somehow not adequate if it doesn’t feed our soul, or some such, is new in only the aspect that there is so much public kvetching and caviling about it. Do you really think all those men in gray suits and blue ties felt “fulfilled” by their job selling mainframes in the 60′s? Come on.

You have what you need. Step one toward happiness, and perhaps fulfillment is to want what you have. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more of anything. For sure there is nothing wrong with wanting and working toward more happiness. No one has a right to anything other that those needs necessary to live freely such that they may pursue that happiness. We have not gone backwards. We have not stagnated. It is easier in 2019 than it was in 1972 to pursue happiness.

You have what you need.

I’ll see you next week…

Mother’s Day 2019 Sunday musings 5/12/19

1) Furballed. Choked. Best new word in a long time.

2) Keanu. “I’m very fortunate. I’m glad to be here.” –Keanu Reeves

Me too, Brother. Me too.

3) Vineyard Vines. You know, Lands End for the “can’t spend my money fast enough” crowd.

Until it shows up in Target.

4) Presence. My Mom lost one of her closest friends yesterday. Frank, or hilariously “Honey” to those in the know, passed away peacefully in his sleep after kissing his beloved wife Mag goodnight on her way to her third shift nursing supervisor gig. Frank and Mag were the dearest, truest of friends for my Mom and Dad, and after Dad passed they continued to be incredibly generous and supportive of Mom. Everyone should have friends the way my folks and the Detorie’s had each other. My heart breaks for both Mag and my Mom.

Frank was a bit more than that for me. My brother and I often caddied for him on Wednesday afternoons when he and the other doctors in town took time off to hit the links. Like pretty much all general surgeons in that era Frank was literally larger than life. He was big in every way. Tall, booming voice, and as with all surgeons of the day, he possessed boundless confidence in his ability to be right. He’d even been in the Navy if memory serves. Think Hawkeye Pearce and Trapper John all in one. Being in the OR when he walked in was to be ringside when Ali came through the ropes. Very impressive for a young buck who desperately wanted to be a doctor.

Thank you Dr. Detorie, for all of that. Fair winds and following seas Sir.

5) Mommy. It’a Mother’s Day in America. Here at Casa Blanco we’ve heard from all of the kids and grandkids. Only my Mom and my sister’s mother-in-law remain for us to call. All bases have been touched. We will share the end of the day and dinner with one of our little families. It’s gonna be great. All of the mothers in our family are “Mommies”.

To be a mother is to give birth. There is nothing trivial about that. Carrying a baby for 9 months is the set up for the privilege of childbirth. It’s all a big, big deal. Being a mother never ends; you carried them and gave birth. Once labor is done presence is no longer necessary. Being Mommy, on the other hand, is an ultramarathon of being present. There is literally no amount of time, attention, or energy that a a Mommy can give to her child that will be enough. It’s an ongoing, every minute of the day endeavor, even if she isn’t in the room, or the house for that matter. Mommy is there in spirit, always. Mommy teaches and she plays and she loves. One chooses to be Mommy. Mommy never really leaves.

So here’s to all the Mommies who are being celebrated today. My professional colleagues who manage to do the same job I do AND be someone’s Mommy are awe-inspiring to say the least. Happy Mother’s Day to you all. To my Mom, still very engaged in the act of teaching and playing and loving. Make you a deal, Mom: I’ll keep being a “work in progress” if you’ll promise to stick around doing the Mommy thing. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. A big shout out to the two women who are Mommy to my grandkids. Thank you for being the terrific Moms you’ve been, and thank you for sharing your babies with us; they are so very lucky to have you. Happy Mother’s Day Katelyn and Brittany.

And finally, Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who has been Mommy to my little brood, my darling Beth. I always chuckle when someone compliments me on what a great job I’ve done as a parent. It’s mostly reflected glory, but thanks! It’s been such a great privilege to be a Dad alongside you as Mom. How cool that you get to be Mommy and Grammy today?!

We are all so lucky to have you.

I’ll see you next week…

Old Friends: Sunday Musings 5/5/19

1) Hip. 3 1/2 weeks out from surgery I forgot my cane this weekend and made it through unscathed. Mistake or milestone?

2) Dayton. In town for a wedding (see below). We spent almost all of our time in and around the campus of the University of Dayton. I’ve always loved college campuses, and Dayton was another campus to love. 4+ years there must be a very nice way to grow up.

3) “You can’t make old friends.”

Beth and I are cruising home following the wedding of a young man we’ve known essentially since birth. Billy is the middle child of our oldest, closest local friends, a couple we met in graduate school in 1982. Over drinks at the Rehearsal Dinner on Friday the topic of friendship came up (out of town guests had been invited to attend). Beth recalled the song lyric above, pretty much stopping conversation in its track when she did. Assembled at that particular table were the parents of the groom, two couples they’d met when they moved to Cleveland in 1991, and us. That’s a lot of years of friendship for that couple.

It takes much more than time to make an old friend, though time is certainly a major part of the recipe. Friends share not just time but also time together. Real friends share experiences, and more than that they openly share how those experiences made them feel. There is a trust in friendship, and you can’t have an old friend unless that trust has been tested over time and repeatedly made the grade. An old friend is one you turn to when times are both good and not so good; they are equally able to share both your sorrows and your joys, and they will forgive you for both. You don’t need to be anyone other than yourself, your truest self when you are in the company of old friends. No masks, no posturing, no playing position. Friendship of this kind is the ultimate nonzero-sum game.

That Beth and I have old friends is among our greatest accomplishments. You can’t make old friends, you have to earn them.

I’ll see you next week…

Follow-Up From the Other Side of the Stethoscope

So, how did everything end up? You know, my little side-trip to the other side of the stethoscope, doctor becomes patient thing. If you recall my beaten up old dude’s body is wearing out starting with my hips. What’s it been like since my last report filed the day before I headed to the OR to pick up my new left hip?

You’re never going to believe how surgery day started. The hospital where my buddy the orthopedic surgeon operates was undergoing one of those massive EMR transitions that is one of the unspoken traumas that result when a smaller hospital is “upgraded” by being absorbed into a larger, usually brand-name hospital system. How ironic that my own personal medical journey should include an EMR transition. If you’ve read any of my drivel you know that my little practice has had a recent government “encouraged” change of EMR, and one of the surgery centers where I ply my art seems to be in a perpetual state of epic upgrades that mess with my routine on a weekly basis. And now I show up at the outpatient sign-in desk and I’m confronted by a couple of clerks with a “deer in the headlights” panic manning the computers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough the “hired guns” sitting in and helping the staff manage the transition had literally no sense of what we, the patients, were experiencing. I almost–ALMOST–made it through the entire process without comment. Woulda done it, too, if it weren’t for the line of questions about my employment. This is a silly thing to be asking someone who has been pre-authed for surgery, been through PAT, and pre-registered, but to make those poor clerks take that particular detour when they were already 45 minutes behind on the first cases of the day was simply too much for me to handle. To my credit it was the only time I stepped back around the stethoscope and pulled the “I’m a doctor card”, telling the hired gun that maybe she should let her charges skate on that bit of misery on day one.

For the most part the rest of the hospital experience went pretty smoothly. Since I was the only my guy was doing that day (as you remember he and his wife were hopping on a plane to more friendly weather a few hours later) he was around a bit more than expected. Consequently there was a little extra awareness of my doctor-as-patient status in the OR. But once I got up to the floor I was pretty much just another hip in a long line of hips to come through. Oh sure, there was a bit of enhanced attention when I had a little post-spinal issue with my bladder and the nurses discovered that I was texting the chief of urology for advice…

Ok, maybe they really did remember that I was a doctor after all.

Which brings up an interesting twist on the 2-way stethoscope street: sometimes it’s NOT an advantage when folks know you are a doctor. It’s pretty common for medical staff of all types to assume that doctors know way more than we really do about the blocking and tackling that takes place outside of our own specialties. The best example of this was without a doubt my physical therapy. My entire team was fabulous, both inpatient and at home. Each of them started our encounters with some version of “well, of course, you know that…” something. At that point it became glaringly obvious to me that, no, in fact, I did NOT know whatever, and I asked each of them to treat me like a moderately intelligent 8th grade jock who was confused by his non-cooperating glutei, etc. It was way better just being on the patient side of the stethoscope, for sure.

Now here I am, precisely 3 weeks out from my surgery and preparing to head back to the office in a couple of days to begin my journey back to my regular side of the stethoscope. As expected I’m a bit ahead of the typical total hip replacement patient, not because I’m a doctor but because I’m a solid 10 years younger, 10 times closer to my ideal weight, and 100 times more physically fit. Still, it’s amazing how far I still have to go before I can consider myself anywhere near normal. There’s still pain, there’s a ton of weakness, and boy, do I get tired easily. All normal stuff. My surprise is doubtless a side effect of my lifetime of athletic activity and what my mind recalls of recoveries in the past. Really, typical bonehead aging athlete stuff. Thankfully the patient in me listened well enough to my doc and his people and took that extra week off to recover.

In the end two things stand out when I look back on this experience. The first is that we are all human. Your doctor is human, too. We all enter the “patient zone” with one very important thing in common: we all have fear. I’m not exactly sure which fear is going to turn out to be worse, the fear of the unknown you have before the first time you have a surgery, or the fear you have the second time because you know what’s coming. Either way, it’s natural to be nervous and to be afraid. No one wants to be sick. No one wants to need surgery. Doctors who travel to the other side of the stethoscope are no different from anyone else. Those kind thoughts extended from my patients pre-op came from a place of knowing, and the care that they extended was all the more appreciated because of that.

There were no epiphanies for me, and that’s the other take-home from this experience. Ever since the landmark 1980′s movie “The Doctor” starring William Hurt as an arrogant putz of a cardiac surgeon who has a near religious transition after being hospitalized, people have just assumed that every doctor is shocked to discover what their patients experience. Not me. I’ve spent the last 20+ years of my career plumbing the experiences of my patients and those of my colleagues in and out of eye care in an effort to improve the patient experience. For sure there were a couple of things that could have gone a bit better for me, but there was no choir of angels singing moment when I realized something about what it means to be patient that I would instantly apply to my practice.

That’s probably a good thing, though, right?