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.

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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

The peace of wild things

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. —Wendell Berry

While out in the field with his German short-haired pointer the other day, my friend discovered the carcass of a hawk hanging from the top of a chain-link fence. On closer inspection it appeared as though the bird had recently expired, still clinging to the wire with one clenched talon. The breast plumage remained fluffed and airy, and brilliantly streaked in the afternoon sunlight.

My friend gently pried the closed talons from the heavy wire and nestled the hawk’s remains into a bag, thinking to bury it when the ground softened.

Early this morning at the back of his garage we lifted the hawk from its burial shroud and spread its tail and wings out on the tailgate of his pickup. The carcass measured 41 inches from wingtip to wingtip and 18-½ inches from head to tail.

Even in death the bird retained some degree of its former majesty, as these photos attest.

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Breathing easier at the end of the day

Fifteen minutes ago I heard grown-up voices and the intermittent cry of a child from the waiting area. It certainly is taking a long time to process the last patient of the day. There must be a glitch of some kind. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — Breathing easier at the end of the day — 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.