Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Whistling Physician

George K. Carpenter, my orthopaedist, died this last Saturday. He and my near eighty year old dad were contemporaries in college, in the same fraternity. When I was still an infant and it was clear I would need regular tending because of the effects of cerebral palsy, my parents chose Dr. Carpenter to manage my orthopaedic care.

Going to the doctor are four words common to me and to my family. I learned at an early age to grin and bear waiting rooms peopled with those who stared the stare of pity at a child wearing a corrective brace. In response, I steeled my child's heart from the get-go, and vowed not to let curiosity pierce the veneer of protection I thought well and good.

Music has long been employed to mercifully undo the lives of the willful. And so it goes.

Dr. Carpenter was not a man of many words, yet he whistled constantly. The linoleum floors and marble walls of his office on Hayes Street echoed melodies as if over a valley. Try as I might, I had little defense for his musical cheer. He would nearly always evoke a hesitant smile or grin from me; his tunes were odd originals married to old standards. I could not retreat into disassociation and be within hearing distance; his whistling was simply Provident design.

Now, as I observe his departure I wonder- did he reckon whistling eased the fear of patients? Reading his death notice today, I learned he experienced fear up close. Dr. Carpenter served in the Army as a surgeon during the Korean War. Surely he witnessed much carnage...and perhaps he honed that exquisite art form of a whistle in the barren hills of Korea where fire rained down, shrapnel decimated hope and blood flowed up to his elbows.

Though I recall little else about him, his kind pied piperness lured me from sullen indignation at my life's plight. I treasure the memory of him whistling away my fear, calling me forward, kicking, screaming, and limping- to hope.

Soli Deo gloria

No comments: