Medicine For People!

September 2017


By Keith Allison - http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/3615997488, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

The Show

They call it the Show in the minor leagues of baseball. Do your job well enough in Triple-A, and you might be called up to the big leagues; you might make it into the Show.

They call it the Show because at its heart, major league baseball is entertainment. But underneath the entertainment is solid skill in batting, fielding, running, knowing how to fit in with your team, and knowing what to do when the ball comes your way.

Here's a little story that illustrates what I mean. Years ago we had selected a person out of a large pool of applicants to train as our new receptionist. She was eager to start, happy to have been chosen, and showed up the first day at 8:30 am for training. Anyone who works as a medical receptionist can tell you how busy the job is, how complicated, how little time there is to polish your nails or dawdle over coffee. So, this new employee watched Jenny Jordan expertly juggle various tasks all morning and went to lunch at noon. She called us over the lunch hour to let us know she wouldn't be coming back.

We laughed, making little jokes about "well I guess she hadn't understood there was actual work involved" and other such comedic gems. To be fair, she did us a favor to let us know right away this wasn't going to work. She had seen our Show and decided she wasn't ready for our humble form of major league activity.

When You Give Something Your Time, You Give Your Life

Mohammed Ali made every effort to become the best heavyweight boxer in the world. He gave his time, his energy, and—as dementia ravaged his inner world—his life.

Sometimes people ask, "What are you willing to die for?" I'd turn this around and ask, "What are you willing to live for?" Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr.— we remember the many people who gave their time and their lives for the common good. But billions of people give their time and their lives in less visible ways. The Show doesn't always play out on a big league ballfield. It can play out in any place you can imagine, at any time in history. It played for slaves in ancient Greece, the serfs of the Middle Ages, and the slaves in the cotton fields of the South. It played in the trenches and field hospitals of the First World War. It plays out in coal mines in Appalachia where miners support their families knowing their lives could well end struggling for breath with black lung disease.

Your script may involve completely different challenges. As the black-listed screenwriter Trumbo said in the movie of the same name, "What the imagination could never conjure, reality delivers with a shrug."

How Do You See Your Role?

The script for major league baseball is easy: get more runs on the board than the other team.

The rest of us have to consult our heads and our hearts. We choose the role we will play. And then, whatever our time and place and situation, we choose to throw ourselves into that role, fully or partially.

"All the world's a stage", wrote Shakespeare. In our lives, the blood and the tears are real. We don't get up off the floor after a couple of hours and go home for a cup of hot chocolate.

Think of the people you know who've been given a terminal diagnosis. Some feel the best approach is to think positively and never give in, to the point their doctors feel pressured to never give up, to perhaps never even discuss the possibility that an illness might be incurable.

Others assess the poker hand differently, and play the cards or toss them in as seems best to them after consulting their doctors. Today you hear of people taking matters into their own hands when they see the end approaching—and voluntarily abstaining from medicine, food and drink until the death, a week or two later, takes them.

As I watch the Show here in Port Townsend, I see people choosing many different paths. In every circumstance I do my very best to take care of them.

The Greatest Show on Earth

We are facing enormous problems in our country and the world today. The Show needs us all.

While few of us will ever play ball in Seattle's major league baseball stadium, we can copy the guidelines of those who do:

Work on your basic skills every day.
Listen to the coach.
Follow the rules.
If you get hit by a pitched ball, don't make a big deal of it.
Always give your best performance.
Help and cheer on your teammates.
Smile and wave at everyone else.

story: 

Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.