Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We Thank You Very Sweetly: My Father's Favorite Patient and the Wizard of Oz

In thinking about patient narratives in healthcare, I think of my father's patient who had played the munchkin who hands Dorothy flowers in Wizard of Oz. One of the few munchkins with speaking lines, he was also one of the few of my father's thousands of patients whose story flowed over into my life. I think of the countless others, the faces in the shadowy rooms he visited "on rounds," (I sometimes went with him when I went to the hospital instead of walking home.) If I think of hospitals as libraries of human stories, with some of the books with spines broken open and others barely browsed, then Mr. Cucksey was fully made into his own feature film.

He was practically a part of our family, a mysterious circus and movie star uncle,  though I only met him once.

Mr. Cucksey lived in a community for the retired performers in Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Sarasota, Florida. His mobile home was connected by a small bridge with a bell on it to his wife's mobile home. According to my father, he and his wife lived separately but would ring the bell on the bridge when one wanted to see the other.

My father adored Mr. Cucksey and his wife. There were days he came home and told me he'd seen Mr. Cucksey and had shared with him various events from my own life.

Mr. Cucksey was a window in my father's medical practice, a world that otherwise dwelled behind the boundary of his white lab coat, tethered to strangeness by the yellow-rubber stethoscope cord around his neck. He is the evidence that my father loved his patients. On one occasion, my father cancelled a weekend trip we were scheduled to take: he was afraid Mr. Cucksey would die without him.

On one of those trips, Mr. Cucksey did. My father was heart-broken. We didn't take any more trips.

In designing a Narrative Medicine course entitled Patient as Hero / Doctor as Human, I often remember Mr. Cucksey as he stood in the dining room of our home tickling himself and cracking up, and cracking us up, a circus performer to the end. I also think often of my father and the sorrow he endured when Mr. Cucksey died. Looking at both sides of the chart that hangs at the end of the bed in the thousands of hospitals in the world, the shared vulnerability care invites us into comes to life, I am moved by the tensions story creates, the clinical ease its absence creates.

The course begins January 13.
And while I add, subtract, shift, and shape the syllabus, I think of Mr. Cucksey and my father, the doctor that loved him.

If you want to take the class, let me know. laura.hopegill@lr.edu or just register at www.lr.edu.
If you want to hear Mr. Cucksey singing "We thank you very sweetly. You killed her so completely," here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlAOQKjoIaU

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