Doctors can fix anything#045;#045; can#039;t they?

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 4, 2003

My four-year-old brought me an old video tape with a woebegone expression on his face. The plastic had been cracked and parts broken off -- the tape was unusable. I can't say I was too sorry to see "Elmo in Grouchland" bite the dust. As much as I love Mandy Patankin, the 35th rendition of his nasty character stealing Elmo's blankie was 34 too many.

But Buzz was devastated. When I told him I couldn't fix it, the look of determination and loyalty stole over his face.

"Daddy can fix it," he said. "Daddy can fix anything."

That voice of unswerving faith was remarkable enough (if not necessarily accurate) but what he said next both amused and bemused me.

"Cause daddy's a doctor."

Of course, "Daddy" isn't a doctor. The closest he's come to medicine is when he worked in a nursing home during his junior college days, eons ago. But I had to wonder how Buzz got the idea doctors could fix anything. Unlike my other two sons, Scott, the Ear-Infection King, and Ben, the Emergency Room Regular, Buzz has been remarkably healthy and other than checkups, has only had to go to a doctor once.

I can remember having that blind faith in doctors, too. I remember losing that faith just last year, at the ripe old age of 39, when five specialists surrounded me after my brother's unexpected death, shaking their heads in sincere distress because they did not know what had happened.

But far from removing my respect for doctors, it only increased it, because I realized at that moment that doctors are human, too. To accomplish the things they can accomplish with all of their frailties and human baggage is simply astounding.

I haven't gotten to know many of the doctors around here very well in the past year, mostly passing acquaintance type things, but the three that I have interviewed for various reasons have only increased my respect. Dr. George Burkhardt is always available for medical advice, more than willing to tell his story as a recovering substance abuser, and a devoted granddad. Dr. Charles Eldridge loves to teach as well as heal, adding a reading program to his office for his young patients, and also offering medical advice to the community through articles and interviews, without a bill or insurance form attached to it.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to work with Dr. Charles Tomberlin as his pet project, the Domino Tournament, nears. The oldest of nine children in a poor farming family, he put himself through medical school. When he got out, the first thing he did was buy his parents a home in town and a car. Even his domino work is altruistic, since the funds raised go to help those, especially children, with disabilities.

No one is perfect, these three doctors included, despite Buzz's idealized vision of their capabilities. But I believe that most who go into medicine do so for all the right reasons -- to be able to help others. As in any profession, you will find the greedy, the lazy, the incompetent, but I think the sheer amount of effort that is required to become a doctor weeds many of these out.

As a parent, I have that very bad habit of planning my children's lives for them. Scott's going to be an architect, Ben's going to be a teacher, Buzz, who insists on being the one to say "Grace" at the table, is going to be a minister…. Of course, they have their own ideas, all involving computer graphics design, acting, and, in Buzz's case, being Spiderman. If one of them did choose medicine, I know the sacrifices it would call for on our parts, but it would be worth it.