The father’s daughter is not a doctor

If I am my father’s daughter and my father is a doctor, doesn’t that sort of make me his patient? But I can turn the tables by making him my blogging subject. He arrived late to the “Doctors Who Write” event sponsored by the Virginia Festival of the Book because he’d been busy at the hospital taking out a gallbladder. While we listened to the doctors read from their work, he crouched down in his chair to wipe something wet off his shoe. I knew that he had just come from surgery so I wrote “Was that blood on your shoe?” in my notebook and nudged him on the arm. He read my question and whispered, “Yes. I think it belonged to a possum.” My dad has a way of raising more questions than he answers.


Doctors who write: Walker Percy, William Carlos Williams, Atul Gawande, Oliver Sacks, Abraham Verghese, my dad after retirement. . . . They are all I can come up with off the top of my head (with some help from Google on spelling). The local literary talent at last night’s VABook event included two pediatricians, a radiologist, and a physician who teaches at UVA. I learned from Dr. Lynn Eckhert that Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to go to medical school, contracted gonnorrhea from an infected baby she was treating and lost an eyeball. I learned from Dr. Sharon Hostler what it felt like to diagnose a colleague with Munchhausen syndrome, a “disease” that causes the patient to fake disease, often with more brutal consequences than actual illness. I learned from a short story by Dr. Bruce Hillman how heartbreaking it might be for an elderly fly fisherman to catch a dying fish that has no fight left. And I learned that Dr. Daniel Becker’s overextended, sleep-deprived 4th-year medical school students, whom he encourages to write in their spare time, have “found the 55-word story.” (If I was a 4th-year medical student, my story would be three words: Valium, Xanax, Valium.)

Last night Dr. Hostler pointed out that in an exam room every patient has a story to tell and it’s the doctor’s job to listen. Hostler said, “We’re all patients” – even the doctors – and that, as patients, “We tell stories about why we’re sick.” Patients tell their narratives to authority figures in white lab coats who can finish the stories for them. Writers, I think, turn over their stories to the community in the same way. We’re dying to relay our symptoms, our thoughts and feelings, to a larger audience so someone will say, “Don’t worry! You’ll be fine! My sister had that same thing last year and she’s an astronaut now!” or – god forbid – “I’m sorry but we’re gonna have to operate.” Sometimes the esteemed audience is your future self. Sometimes it’s just a single other person. Occasionally that person is swinging around a dead possum in the middle of the night and you wonder if maybe he should be the one in treatment. 🙂

2 Thoughts on “The father’s daughter is not a doctor

  1. The Murray boyz are just so butch, aren’t they?

  2. Loving to handle dead animals is in their blood.

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