The Best Teacher I Ever Had!
Tom was the best teacher I ever had! A friend in theater once told me, while she was removing the grease paint from her face after a performance, that the audience remembers the good and the bad, never the mediocre. Tom was a very good teacher.
A lesson on labor
I first met Tom as a medical student. He had known my Dad professionally, so that was his introduction, but he was not one to favor one student over another. He worked in the emergency and diagnostic clinic of the school. The first money I ever made as a doctor was a project Tom asked me to do. He had a patient who needed a splint made for a broken finger.
“Mr. J, would you like to make this splint for a patient of mine?” he asked.
“Sure Doctor, I would be happy to do that, if you think I can,” I replied.
“I’ll tell you how to do it, and I’m sure you will be able to. And I’ll pay you for doing it, after all, I’m going to charge the patient.”
After he carefully explained to me what he needed and what to do, I went to the lab later that day after class and made what he asked for.
“That’s perfect, Mr. J! How much would you like for making that?”
“$20 dollars,“ was my thought out reply.
“How long did it take you to make?”
“About an hour.”
“$20 won’t even cover the materials you used, I’ll give you $100. The patient will pay me twice that for this!”
Obviously I was not going to have a very successful practice with my business model, but I think he liked my attitude!
Tom had the unique ability to make you feel good about yourself and what you were learning.
Tom invited me out to dinner one evening with his family.
“We are going to a great restaurant, J, they specialize in catfish,” he said.
“I’ve never eaten catfish, Tom,” I said.
“No problem, I’ll teach you how it’s done!”
He did too. For those who don’t know, there is a time-honored technique to eating this fish.
I was very excited the day I was accepted to my residency in surgery! I didn’t know that I was accepted to the same school that he went to; he was beaming when he told me.
Due to the rigors of surgery training, I lost track of Tom during those next few years. After finishing up and working a year in the private sector, I got my job in Florida. Was I surprised to find that Tom was already working at the same medical school and hospital!
“Thought I’d move the family to the sunshine state, Dr. J, great to have you on board!”
One of Tom’s responsibilities at the hospital was to make sure all the new doctors were certified in CPR and kept their training current. When he was testing my knowledge, I was again reminded of how wonderful a teacher he was, and I felt so good when he approved my technique.
I had just sat down on a chair in the first floor medical school hallway, taking a break over the noon hour from my teaching responsibilities, when suddenly a Code Blue was announced over the loud speakers. It was in one of the fourth floor clinics.
I ran up the stairs to be the first doctor on the scene! Tom was there with a few other personnel.
“Great Dr. J,” he said. “We are testing the emergency response system, and you got here in less than two minutes, plenty of time to save the patient.”
“OK, Tom,“ I said, a little short of breath. I went back to my break on the first floor.
Ten minutes later, a second Code Blue was called! This one was in a clinic on the third floor. I couldn’t take the chance, running up the stairs again, only to find that it was a second test.
“Dr. J,” Tom proudly said, “We are still testing the system. If you hear another Code Blue, you don’t need to answer it!”
“That’s good, Tom!”
I later heard from other colleagues how impressed Tom was with my rapid response!
Tom was from Indiana, and great fan of the Indy 500 car race! When I began making ceramic sculptures, I made him one of an Indy driver (above). He really seemed to like that!
The final lesson
Something I haven’t mentioned about Tom is he was not in the best of health.
He was not that old, but was obese by any measurement one would use. His blood pressure was a little high also, but whenever these things were brought up, he said he felt fine, and he would take care of it eventually.
Tom didn’t have eventually.
One tragic day, Tom had a stroke. He was paralyzed, and spent the last year of his life in a nursing home.
I have heard people express the sentiment, “We’re all going to die from something.”
Although on the surface this is true, and of course chance plays a role in all of our lives, from what I have witnessed as a doctor, our dying can be with peace and grace, or with incredible misery and turmoil, often depending on the lifestyle habits that have paved the way to our ends.
So if you wonder why it is that I am concerned about people that need to, but are delaying making those important differences in their health and fitness, and mention the BMI or any other measurement that has been shown to be an accurate predictive instrument for warning of future medical problems, it is to alert people to start paying attention.
I do this because of what I have seen happen to those I care about when they did not value their health, and felt problems would happen to someone else, not themselves, or they will address it eventually, because from all the lessons he taught me, even with his passing, Tom was the best teacher I ever had!
A Florida surgeon & a fitness fanatic Dr.J blogs at the Calorie Lab.