The short version:
Medicine is in it’s essence, a business of advocacy. The advocacy takes multiple forms. Sometimes we fight insurance companies, other times we arrange for treatments, we tell people on occasion things they don’t want to hear, we cure what we can, we comfort the rest and at all times our sacred duty is to the PERSONHOOD of the one we are entrusted to care for. I see entry into the political world as no more than a natural extension of what I’m already doing as an advocate for a healthy society.
The long version:
In 1992, my wife Amy and I moved all of our worldly possession in an18 foot Ryder truck to the City That Care Forgot, New Orleans. I had miraculously completed 4 years of medical school and was entering a 6 year residency in Urological Surgery. So far my full life experience was in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greenville NC. My formulaic “by The Book” understandings from childhood had gotten me thus far and I thought “all things would work together for MY good”— if I believed right and worked hard. But in New Orleans my thinking turned upside down.
Urology is a surgical subspecialty. I spent my first two years learning to be a general surgeon. In New Orleans, you learn general surgery by doing trauma surgery. At that time, the city had the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Every year, nearly 400 citizens were killed. For every person killed, about 4 were wounded. So those 1600+/- shot, beaten, stabbed, or otherwise wounded were ours to fix. We always asked, “Who shot you and what were you doing?” The answer always was, “Some dude shot me” and “I was sitting on my front porch reading my Bible when I was shot”. Yea, right, we all assumed. Over time, seeing this violence makes one quite hardened to it, cynical to the human condition, and as New Orleans is 80% African American one could become racist.
One day I’m making rounds by myself at Charity Hospital, designated for trauma and every other form of medical care for people without money. Charity was a beautiful institution in 1927 but by 1992 with open wards, 12 beds to one nurse, one phone chained to one desk and one nurse’s aid—not so much. This day, making rounds, I encounter a bullet victim sitting on the side of his bed with his friend, and together they were reading a Bible. ‘What were you doing when you were shot?’ ‘I was reading my Bible’. Maybe he really was. That among other events changed my thinking. I began to see others who shared my values and faith, but would have an entirely different lot in life than I. I thought a few more years and I’m guaranteed a wonderful career. Just a few more years for this young man of color, he may be in jail or dead. Did I have any responsibility to this man, shot, stabbed or injured, not just to treat his physical needs but to attempt to improve his overall condition in life? For me, absolutely.
Soon after my wife and I partnered with a group who started a school (Desire Street Academy) in the upper ninth ward in an area called the Desire Housing Projects. Today the school and projects are gone — victims of Katrina. We still support people and organizations laboring in those areas to improve the lives of those around them through education, mentoring, health clinics and Faith.
Some 17 years ago, after finishing residency and sojourning in the Raleigh area, we moved to Hendersonville. Growing a medical practice, raising kids, renovating a house, coaching soccer, participating in church, hosting foreign exchange students, co-sponsoring a camp for Desire Street Kids to come to in the summers etc., and mission trips to New Orleans and Haiti kept us very busy. But I got agitated about something and ran for County Commissioner in 2008. I was an unaffiliated voter so I got my 3007 signatures of registered voters and petitioned to be on the ballot. My campaign was based on a healthy Henderson County infrastructure—walking trails, better soccer fields and fiscal responsibility. I lost. But If you removed the straight party voting, I won that election. But you can’t remove straight party voting so I came in second in a two man race.
After the loss of that race, I was encouraged to start a radio show which I called “Just Saying”. I tell stories about living. I tell war stories, true and otherwise. I grew up with World War II vets, but they’re gone now mostly so I tell stories of Vietnam and Korea. I tell stories of loss and gain and family, people who died who should have lived and those who lived who should have died. These stories are given to me by patients and friends and others and they carry the common message of humanity and grace and thinking of others before you think of yourself. I tell stories that force you to see the life of another as they might see their own lives.
My radio stories grew into a book “Urological Surgery and Lite Hauling, Reflections of a Small Town Surgeon”. I’ve since written a few short movies and won awards for the same. About the time we invaded Iraq, I was called and asked to fill in as urologist at our Veterans Administration Hospital in Asheville which I was proud to do for nearly 10 years. Not only did I help our VA system in a time of need, I became a Duke University assistant professor of urology. This ten years training residents combined with the time with UNC resident urologists in training is among my most rewarding professional experiences. I still keep up with most of the surgeons I trained.
Today my kids are in the midst of their education. The eldest son is pursuing his love of science. Our other will be a chef. This summer he returned to New Orleans and did an internship at the fabulously historic and delicious Commanders Palace Restaurant. The youngest, our daughter is playing basketball and tennis and is Secretary of her High School Class. The matriarch of this family, Amy, is perfect, and the smoking hot wife of my youth. She introduced a phonics based reading program called Letterland (which she discovered while our kids were in school in New Zealand—a one year stint between New Orleans and Raleigh I didn’t even mention) to the Henderson County School System which they have made mandatory in all schools; she’s taught 1st grade girls Sunday School at our church every week for 15 years and has been the life force that has brought Young Life to Henderson County. She basically can do anything.
In summary, medicine is in it’s essence, a business of advocacy. The advocacy takes multiple forms. Sometimes we fight insurance companies, other times we arrange for treatments, we tell people on occasion things they don’t want to hear, we cure what we can, we comfort the rest and at all times our sacred duty is to the people we are entrusted to care for. I see entry into the political world as no more than a natural extension of what I’m already doing as an advocate for a healthy society.