Like a small performance on the high wire, there’s an art to tightrope walking in clinical practice. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — Tightrope — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Humane Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.

Philippe Petit on the wire

Husking corn

On the morning of this Independence Day I sit on the stoop of my back porch, feet planted firmly on the short stretch of concrete walkway, husking sweet corn. I select an ear from the brown bag, part the dark tassel and strip down the outer husk. Rows of shiny kernels, yellow and white, glisten in the late morning sun. I snap off the base and lay the cleaned ear on the heavy oval plate at my side. High in the trees that tower above my neighbor’s house a vireo pipes his clear, crisp notes. Momentarily, I pause in my labor to look up; but the bird is hidden in the densely leafed canopy.

A chipmunk pops her head up from a crevice in the red stone wall to survey the scene. In a moment she poses prettily on a capstone, watching me work. Sparrows descend to perch atop our weather-worn wooden fence and take turns attacking the birdfeeder. Languidly, our black cat lounges on the driveway below, content to bask in the morning sun.

One hundred seventy years ago on this day, July 4th, Henry Thoreau moved into his small one-room house near the northwest cove of Walden Pond, eight days shy of his 28th birthday. He had begun to clear the site with a borrowed axe four months earlier before ice-out. By mid April the house was framed and ready for raising. Thoreau dug his cellar in the side of a small rise that sloped to the south; and “at length, at the beginning of May, with the help of [his] acquaintances,” he set up the frame of his house. Before the following winter he had built a chimney, shingled the sides and plastered the interior walls. The final structure measured ten feet wide by fifteen feet long, boasted “eight-feet posts, a garret, a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end and a brick fireplace opposite.”

“There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest,” Thoreau wrote. “Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?”

As I reach for the final ear of corn, a catbird calls from its nest in the thicket behind the garage. I have never heard so many catbirds as I have this year. They might be making a comeback, I think, as I strip the husk from the last ear of corn. I pick off the few remaining strands of corn silk and add it to the stack on the plate.

Lessons learned from the brute beast

Before he chose a career in writing, James Joyce was a medical student. He kept a model of the human fetus in the womb on his desk while he crafted the “Oxen of the Sun” episode in Ulysses. We can surmise that the theme of gestational development was constantly before his eyes and in his thoughts as he wrote. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — Lessons learned from the brute beast — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Humane Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.


Typewriters and tools

Fifty years on I can still effortlessly conjure up a mental image of the old black Underwood typewriter that sat in my boyhood home. My father had acquired it second-hand during his college years; and in his chosen profession he still put it to good use. more»

Interested readers can now peruse my latest Musings blogTechnological tools still require thought — at the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) website.

JAAPA is the official publication of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Tree rings, heartwood

A number of years ago I sat on my front porch and watched a work crew take down the ancient ash tree that stood by the street in our neighbor’s yard. For decades it had provided welcome shade on our sleepy street in the heat of summer and shelter for any number of species of birds and squirrels. Eventually, the heavier branches decayed and dropped periodically without warning. The old tree became a nuisance and then a hazard; eventually, the town decided to take it down.

I counted the rings after the men packed up their trucks and carted off the cut up logs, chipped branches and debris. The tree was nearly 150 years old.

On closer inspection you could discern distinctive differences in those rings. Some were narrow, others were fat — reflections of good and lean years, ambient temperatures and rain and snowfall, relative changes in climate over the course of its long life. The heartwood, generally the strongest part of the tree at the core, had softened and decayed, so much so that when the crew made the final cut through the base of the trunk, a gush of vile liquid spewed forth from the gaping wound.

Many years have come and gone since I rambled through the woods and fields of my boyhood. Like most folks, I have had lean years and years of plenty. Together, all of them have made me what I am, shaped me into what I have become. I have learned to value the imperfections in those years of growth. In many ways they have sharpened my outlook, honed my perceptions and strengthened the heartwood.

Old timers used to say that you could read a man by studying the map of his form and face. In retrospect, these are but the reflections of the rings and heartwood of the soul.

"Lord of the Rings" 2009©Brian T. Maurer

“Lord of the Rings” 2009©Brian T. Maurer