Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2000 07:09:14 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Dr. Francis Coleman

This is a class work day. The students are preparing their next project. I'm nervous. It's a new one and really stretching them into unknown worlds. Anyway, something was stirring as I walked the streets this morning and then it hit me as I sat on the deck. Sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, surrounded by a relaxing delightfully cool pre-dawn morning darkness, watching the shadows and light embrace each other as they danced off the rocks and plants above the lighted koi pond, mesmerized by the soothing symphonic rhythms of the water falls, my mind zeroed in on thoughts about Dr. Francis Coleman, "Frank" to his friends.

"Yeah," I exclaimed to myself as if I just had discovered specific gravity, "Frank is my answer." And, I rushed into to tickle the keyboard of this computer.

Frank is my answer to a rather vitriolic response to my message on how I use the arts as an educational tool in my history classes. I committed, according to this person, the crime of impersonating an educator and am an example of the reason education is in the "sorry state that it is." One of his less rancorous statements was: "If you needed heart surgery to save your life, would you rather have it done by a doctor who had had a "dry, boring" conventional education in cardiology, or would you like to have your heart cut on by someone whose education had consisted of writing and performing a 3 minute pop song about heart surgery?"

For these past few days I have been struggling with how to answer this person's attack. I knew the person was missing the point, not to mention throwing a few rancid red herrings out there. What, then, is the point? The point is a doctor named Frank Coleman, a diminutive man who is a giant of a compassionate human being. Frank knows his medicine. Oh, he is a superb physican. More important, he also knows each of the people he treats, and he treats them as sacred individuals. Frank is not one of those production line "a patient every fifteen minute" physicians. He is a healer, not just a doctor. He treats the whole person, not the malady. He is a listener. He holds your hand, touches your soul. He has a soothing and reassuring aura about him. He puts you at ease. He has a laying on of presence. It's hard to be anxious and scared when he is with you. He makes you feel comfortable in the usually awkward, nervous, and often intimidating and frightening environment of an examining or hospital room. It is easy to see him as a human being, not just as a doctor costumed in a white coat because he sees you as a human being. He converses with you, notices you. He doesn't merely examine your body; he treats your spirit as well. You are to him a fellow human being rather than just a patient. He makes the time to take time with you. There were no barriers between him and the other person in the room. There never is a harsh, cold, clinical distance when he was in the room. You know he wants to be there and is not in a rush to be somewhere else. You know he cares, deeply cares. He wants to help. His very presence tells you, "It will be okay." You know you are safe in his hands. He was our family physician until he closed his private practice; he saved my Susan's life a few decades ago.

We talked often during that long week Susan was in the hospital waiting for the infection to disappear before she could be taken into surgery, why he spent so much time with each "patient." We subsequently talked a lot in his office when I was there for my annual check-ups or for some other reason.

Over years I've never forgotten the essential bits and pieces of his answers, although I have to admit it has only been in the last decade that I really have appreciated his words.

Rushing in from the deck I went to a folder lying on one of the shelves. In it is a batch of yellowed pieces of paper of different sizes and shapes and colors. There's even a matchbook, a torn piece of newspaper, an envelop. You get the point. Often, after I left Frank, I had jotted down his comments in the car on anything and with anything I could get my hands on. When I got home I haphazardly stuffed that stuff into an unmarked folder. Rarely go to that forlonre folder lying ignored on a top shelf. It was just there for whatever. That will change now that I have rediscovered it. As I read his words, some for the first time in over a decade, I think I'll use Frank more often as a reminding mentor. Anyway, "whatever" has arrived. Here are some of Frank's answers to this person's comments:

No one is a textbook case. No two people are the same and no two treatments are alike.

You know a lot of so-called doctors say that they can't be bothered by this and that. You always have to be ready to be bothered. You just can't rush. You've got to slow down and be there, and be ready to be there.

Sometimes being a doctor gets in the way of practicing medicine. Being a doctor can scare people. They're afriad of what you'll find and tell them. They won't think clearly and say all that they need to say about themselves, or they don't know how to say it.

Each person is far more different than you think. Their chemistry is different, their make-up is different, their anatomy is different. The disease is different even if you call it the same thing. You have to react differently. You just can't prescribe for a disease without knowing about the person.

There is nothing routine when it comes to a person.

When you automatically 'go by the book' you and your patient can quickly get in trouble. The 'book' is a reference, not an absolute. Don't let it dictate in every situation.

You have to have a feel for each patient and each situation. You have to listen, not just hear. You have to see, not just look.

There are times to talk and times to keep your mouth shut. There are times to laugh and joke around and times to cry. There are times to give orders and times to just let things go. They don't tell about those things in med school. You need people skills, not just medicial stuff. Practicing medicine is knowing about people and how to communicate with them.

There's a person inside that shell of a body connected to it.

I'm always learning from each patient, how to treat a little better, listen a little better. A lot of times you have to throw away the book and be a creative detective. Almost every time. Sometimes you have to look at a situation differently from what you usually do.

You have to watch each person and see how they act. I have to listen to each patient, and not just to their words. The patient has something to tell you, but won't or will miss something if he's nervous and scared.

Real medicine is a healing art as much as, if not more, as it is a hard science. Intuition plays a lot larger role than most think. There's a lot more creativity and imagination that most people think. And that can sometimes be more important than information.

Sometimes it's just trial and error groping, and guessing.

Medicine is far less of a cut-and-dry specific formula: someone comes in with an illness, I examine, and then I prescribe treatment.

Medicine is about people, not just pills.

Just because you know medicine doesn't mean you're good at it. If you don't like people or care about them, if you can't talk with people and if you're not a people person, I don't care how much medicine you know. You'll be a lousy doctor. And you'll do more harm than good.

Sounds like a teacher, doesn't he. Well, we're both in the people business. Anyway, Frank is my answer to this person's barbs. The point is that Frank Coleman knew and these students hopefully are discovering that having the information is not enough; it's what you can do with it that really counts. I think maybe learning and practicing--and that includes teaching--is a product of emotional and spiritual development, not just a gathering of information. Actually, you need all three working in a proper relationship like the three separate sides that join to form a triangle. The practice of anything is an act of creativity and imagination. It is far more a state of mind and spirit than an activity.

Maybe that's what Einstein really meant when he said imagination and creativity are more important than information.

Lots more thoughts, but enough for now.

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
912-333-5947                       /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
                                  /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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