I Believe in Thanking My Mentors
It was the actual moment I had been waiting for my entire life. I would finally be set loose with real patients under the guidance of a seasoned family physician. Scrolling down the list of third year medical students, I found his name next to mine: L. Orville “Buddy” Burnell Jr. MD III.
I entered his small nondescript office and three chatty women in white polyester jumpsuits scurried me down a narrow, smoke-filled hallway to Dr. Burnell’s nurse, a slender, snappy-tongued woman with a gravelly voice who chain-smoked at her desk. Her deep red lipstick and nail polish were the color of freshly clotted blood. She escorted me into a dimly lit room where I was not at all sure I was safe. On the couch sat Dr. Burnell, a seventy year-old cowboy snacking on Metamucil wafers while puffing on his pipe.
With pen, paper, and stethoscope, I followed his every move for an entire month as he examined his patients. “Ok, now, pa’dna, let’s look in that there snoot . . .ah, a little redness, nothing to say grace over. Let’s listen to your ticker while I gotcha here.” Slamming down the chart he exclaimed, “You’ve prob’ly got some of that damn crud we’ve seen going around!”
In the next room, he told an elderly woman, “You’ve got arthritis! Well, hell, you can see that. No need to pay for that, shuga. Now hold that cane in your left hand and tell Byron to give ya’ a damn golf ball to carry around in the right.” He couldn’t cure her arthritis, but she looked like an avid golfer when she left.
Before seeing a man he called “Sunshine,” Dr. Burnell pulled me aside and said, “This family’s been shot in the damn butt with bad luck!” Upon entering the exam room, he patted the old fellow on the shoulder and said, “Sunshine, now I ain’t gonna pull any punches by tellin’ ya’ we got a drug.” He asked Sunshine if he got what he was saying. Sunshine replied, “Yep! Lights out.” That was the entire office visit.
I’ll always savor my month with L. Orville “Buddy” Burnell Jr. MD III. I didn’t learn much about high tech-medicine, but I learned everything about human relationships and the art of medical practice. So, after fifteen years, I tracked him down to thank him.
He answered on the first ring. With my heart pounding, I asked if it was really him. “Yep, this is Doctor Burnell. Who the hell is this?” I explained that I was a medical student he mentored long ago. I wanted to thank him. He said, “Well, thank you, sweetie, but I’m feeling like hell!” Before I could express my sympathy, he interjected, “What comes around goes around. Thanks for calling on me.” He hung up on me. I never even told him my name—not sure he’d even remember me—but I did get to thank him before “lights out.”
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