Tecumseth, the great warrior and chief of the Shawnee, once wrote a poem that – the older I become –is now part of my life’s compass. It tells us how we should live and how we should die. It begins, “So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.” It also tells us, “… When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.”
I am hesitant yet must bring up what I worry may be “a loss of vision.” The other day I learned of a flaw that I believe we in the Chattanooga community should attempt to correct. Mind you, no one has done anything wrong, nor unethical, but all of the children in our community must solely depend on Erlanger’s Children’s Hospital. In order for our only hospital for all of our children to reach its zenith, sometimes you have to gently assist our blessings in their climb to greatness.
Larry Sargent, a friend who I have admired for years, quit his practice as Chattanooga’s primary source for craniofacial repair and cleft palate reconstruction last year. He was an integral part of the Plastic Surgery Group at Erlanger and his brilliance has enabled thousands of children to live better lives with brighter futures. There is no question of his contributions for over 20-plus years. But last summer he left Chattanooga and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. He left us.
The “whys” and “wherefores” make no difference. He left on his own accord and still has many friends in Chattanooga. The rub comes when a foundation headquartered in Chattanooga, a 501(c)(3) that depends on contributions from Chattanooga patrons and local fundraisers, is now sending patients, as deserving as each truly is, to Dr. Sargent in Salt Lake City in what might be construed as some cozy “arrangement.”
It is perfectly within the foundation’s rights to send patients to wherever the Board of Directors wishes, I have no problem with that. But to focus on one particular surgeon 1,800 miles away, this when you are using contributed dollars from Chattanoogans who much prefer helping the children here, certainly seems to turn Tecumseh’s “wise ones into fools.”
Now, what is my skin in this game? Over the last 40 years, there cannot possibly be a patient at Larry’s former group – the Erlanger-based Plastic Surgery Group/Hayes Hand Center – who has been seen more than I have. The girls in the office claim my chart has to be delivered by a truck “that bends in the middle and goes ‘Shush-Shush’ when they stamp on the brakes.”
When a new Plastic Surgery employee asks me which one of the partners is my doctor, anyone within earshot giggles and says, “All of the above.” And, yes, my relationships with The Plastic Surgery Group go far beyond any physician-patient deal. I love each of them; they each love me. So, yes, I am a fervent loyalist and happen to worry about what happens when, say, an innocent 16-year-old girl gets shot in the face during a gang shoot-out. Salt Lake City ambulance service is out.
Todd Thurston, The Plastic Group’s new craniofacial guy, agreed to meet with me because “I want to know,” okay? I arranged to meet because I wanted to see what was wrong that we were sending kids on a 3,600-mile trip instead of taking care of our cleft palates and facial trauma with the loving hands of home. Again, I know Larry – he’s fabulous – but what happens to the six-year-old who goes through a windshield because he’s not in a car seat at MLK and Broad? Emergency surgery is very real and “emergency” waits for no one.
Dr. Thurston, young and super educated, grew up in Huntsville and went to UAB. He then got a masters at UA-Huntsville before med school at U. of Kansas. He did a cranio fellowship under the renowned Dr. Steve Bachman at U. of Michigan. He’s been here since January and two different scrub nurses tell me, not wanting to be quoted, “He’s as good, or better, than anybody we’ve ever seen.” Hello?
Ask Don Mueller, the president of Children’s Hospital, who’s been around, as they say. “World class.” My two insiders, Dr. Marshall Jemison and Woody Kennedy, are quite impressed. Woody, another Alabama native, went so far as to tell me Dr. Thurston is the “second best” he has ever seen from the entire state. (The first is not ousted dermatologist-turned-governor Robert Bentley, either.)
This whole cross-country referral doesn’t make sense. Sending an infant on a 3,600-mile journey with donated dollars doesn’t take into effect what happens if there is staph infection, blood clots, strep infection, hematomas, MRSA, post-surgery hemorrhaging, candida in the blood stream, broken surgical pins, c.diff. I am telling you, I can name eight – 8 – Chattanoogans who have died within 48 hours from infections exactly like I haul around in my bulging case of osteomyelitis every day.
Do I have a dog in the hunt? You mighty right I do. Stop this folly. We have a dandy in Todd Thurston among us. I pray you won’t find out due to facial trauma.
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“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
“Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
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Sing your death song …. and die like a hero going home. Who doesn’t share that ‘stage left?’