Addiction, Facebook, Doctors, Pigs, and Zombies

I confess: I’m hooked.

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By kathywaller1. All rights reserved.

The computer is a Kathy magnet. It wasn’t so bad until 2008, when I replaced a forty-hour work week with a laptop and my husband installed wi-fi. The Internet brings so many fine blogs and other attractions into my living room, where I sit with my feet up and examine them all; email can take up an entire day, if I leave it open while working.

Doubters would say that what I do isn’t working. I disagree. Negotiating the web is fatiguing. Commenting draws a lot of energy. I don’t want to write something that will be misunderstood; I don’t want to leave typos or incorrect punctuation; I don’t want to sound stupid.

Example: The previous sentence initially read, I want to sound stupid. It’s easy to mess up online.

Political posts on Facebook leave me just wo-ahn out. There’s the writing, of course, which is draining, but there’s also the emotion. Righteous indignation requires energy. Restraint requires more. After exercising restraint for several months, I stopped logging on. But there are friends and acquaintances–no, they’re not all friends–I want, and need, to keep up with. I like knowing how my great-niece’s first year of school is going. I like knowing that in the doctor’s waiting room when she was four, she suddenly came out with, “DOOOOOOOOOMED. We’re all DOOOOOOOOOMED.” Her fourteen-year-old brother wasn’t impressed, but I was. Her pronouncements remind me we’re not all doooooooomed.

Anyway, I logged onto FB today, discovered a post about a remark a sexist pig made on a pseudo news program, and was moved to share the post and a rousing Jeremiad of my own.

I didn’t address my remark to the sexist pig, nor did I call him one. I saved the phrase for this post. I merely suggested that his comments reinforce the ignorance and the bigotry of listeners who agree with him. Plus a couple of other salient thoughts.

Then I copied my remarks and pasted them into a Word document for future publication somewhere, perhaps here. They were scathing, simply scathing, but reasoned and polite, and they deserve a wider audience.

Another example: I’m getting all het up here just recalling the incident. Molecules of emotion surge through my body. I am giving the sexist pig power over me. That isn’t good.

Yesterday I heard a segment of a call-in program on NPR about the downside of computer technology on the culture. I’ve seen one of the effects on medicine already. When my former doctor’s practice installed computers in examining rooms, he stopped looking at me and started looking at the screen. So, to a lesser degree, did a specialist I consulted. They were excellent clinicians, and the latter possibly saved my life by doing surgery that only she and I thought I needed.*

But there’s  information to be drawn from faces as well as from words, on both sides of a conversation. Eyes transmit confidence and sympathy and a number of other messages. With the Party of the First Part looking at the side of the Party of the Second Part’s Head (or, as once happened, the back of his white coat), and the Party of the Second Part looking at a screen and typing away, I wonder whether the two Parties make sufficient connection.

The internist I see now has no computer in the examining room. He taps here and there on a Palm Pilot (or something; it has a light on it for closer examination of funny-shaped moles, plus, it appears, an entire pharmacopoeia; I hope it’s not an iPhone). But he sits near me and looks me in the eye, and I reciprocate, and we get along very well.

He also asks at every visit how the writing is going, thus allowing me to infer he remembers something about me that isn’t in the file. It probably is in the file, maybe scrawled inside the cover of the folder, but as long as I haven’t seen it, it isn’t.

One day I’ll walk in and find myself looking at a 17-inch flat screen. It’s inevitable, and, all things considered, it’s a good thing. But when the time comes, I shall tell the doctor how to conduct himself while interviewing patients, just in case he doesn’t know. I’m old enough to be his mother and I taught high school English, so I’m not only entitled, I’m an expert.

But enough of doctors.

I’ve been thinking for months–years?–about the power I give technology over my life: I don’t move as much as I used to, or get out of the house as I should. I don’t read as much as I did–I read much less, in fact, and this is the first time I’ve been able to make that claim.

I don’t write with a pen and paper as often as I used to. I’ve always enjoyed putting words onto paper with a good pen, not an expensive one, but a pen that fits my hand.

And although he hasn’t said anything, my POSSLQ** might be as tired of seeing me staring at a screen as I am of seeing the doctor do the same.

So. I’ve decided to pull the plug nightly by 7:00 p.m., and to work backward towards 5:00 p.m.

To do so, I’ll have to write everything I want to write during the day. For a nocturnal animal whose brain

starts functioning about 9:00 p.m., the change won’t be easy. But it’s the right thing to do.

In my new spare time, I will read books and write in my journal with the pen of my choice. POSSLQ will follow his tradition of reading every word in the newspaper and in several magazines. We might converse.

I will go to bed at a decent hour and wake at a decent hour, in time to get a table and an electrical outlet at the BookPeople coffee shop, and there I will write–write meaning to write stories and novels for at least one hour every day. I will do it because I promised author and editor Ramona DeFelice Long that I will.

Giving away your power isn’t a bad thing as long as you know the person who receives it has good motives.

Note that I write I will, a construction implying determination, resolution, perseverance.

If I absolutely can’t help myself, I’ll toss off a blog post now and then. But only outside that sacred hour.

It hasn’t escaped me that the BookPeople part involves using a laptop and wi-fi. I can’t write what I need to write without the laptop.

But as I would not be a Luddite, so neither would I be a Zombie. And I’ve had it on good authority that computer addiction leads right down the primrose path to Zombie-ism.

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*The subsequent biopsy agreed with us. Thank you, Dr. Carla Ortique, who now practices in Houston. I wish you were here.

**1) Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. 2) An affectation. We’re married. 3) See in its entirety “My POSSLQ” by Charles Osgood. A darned good poem. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands and crystal brooks
With silken lines, and silver hooks.
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
If you would be my POSSLQ.” . . .

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Dr. Luckett’s Babies

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Image via Wikipedia

When Dr. Francis Carlton Luckett arrived in the tiny farming town of Fentress, Texas, with his wife and infant daughter, in 1917, he planned to stay for one year. He moved there from Valentine, Texas, to fill the practice of a doctor who was serving in World War I. He said his family had nearly starved in Valentine because no one there ever got sick.

The local doctor, however, didn’t return home, but chose to move to San Antonio instead.

So Dr. Luckett remained in Fentress until his death in 1965.

Doctor Luckett was small–not much more than five feet tall–and spoke with a quiet, slow Mississippi drawl and a bit of a lisp. He moved slowly. There was usually a cigarette hanging precariously from his lower lip.  How it stayed in place, no one ever knew.

I was fascinated by the photographs of his graduating class hanging in the dark hallway that led back to his waiting room. My mother would hold me up and point out the young man with the handlebar moustache who looked nothing like the doctor we’d come to visit.

He had worked his way through medical school at Tulane by playing the organ in a theater while silent films were shown.

He shared his music with the community by giving concerts and playing for weddings. More than once, he dismantled the organ in his living room, transported it to the Methodist church (whose organ was not in the best of shape), and rebuilt it so he could play at the weddings of young women whose births he had attended. He wrote a piano rag, “Hospital Row,” but, unfortunately, never put it on paper.

Dr. Luckett drove Cadillacs. In the 1950s they were finned and nearly as long as our small-town blocks. He looked very small sitting behind the wheel of those big cars. He drove slowly, starting at his two-storey house at the end of our street, gliding by our house in the mornings and then back home for lunch, and an hour later back to the office.

His personal life held much sadness. After his wife died, he reared his three little girls, just as he had reared his younger sister after their parents died. His oldest daughter died when she was in her forties.

Doctor took trips abroad and then told about his experiences in Sunday-night talks at the Methodist church. He took a three-month trip around the world while my mother was pregnant with me (a fact my parents successfully kept secret from my grandmother). On his last trip to the Holy Land, he brought back a vial of water from the Jordan River, and two infants–one the last baby he delivered, and the other, the last baby named for him–were baptized with that water.

Dr. Luckett was traditional in his views. I was six years old when I heard him agree with my Great-aunt Ethel that Man would never go the moon because it wasn’t in the Bible. They also agreed that when the new dial telephones were installed in Fentress, there would be trouble, because people would get the O and the zero mixed up.

Although he used the relatively new antibiotics liberally, Doctor believed in the healing properties of  icthyol–“black salve.” Every house in town probably had a jar. My mother slapped the nasty ointment on me every time I picked up a splinter. I inherited a round cardboard container of it, with Doctor’s name handwritten in faded ink on the lid. He had prescribed it for my great-uncle’s mother-in-law, who died in the late 1940s at the age of nearly one hundred. I’ve never opened the container, but I suspect the contents are still good.

Dr. Luckett was an excellent surgeon and obstetrician. He charged $25.00 for a “baby case,” explaining privately that he chose the figure because it was low enough that he might get paid, and if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter too much.

There’s no telling how many babies he saw into the world. He delivered my father’s youngest brother in 1919. He delivered me in 1951. In fact, my mother credited him with my being born at all. Several year before my birth she had lost a full-term baby because her doctor had not realized she would need a C-section. Later she learned that Dr. Luckett had asked one of her friends, “Is Crystal going to have a Caesarean?” When the friend said no, he had said, “She’s going to need one.” He’d never been her doctor, but just by observing her build, he had known.

Doctor and I had an excellent working relationship. He gave me shots. I blamed my mother.

He shot me full of penicillin for chronic throat and sinus infections (he and I are no doubt to blame for several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, but in the ’50s it seemed the right thing to do). He hated to use needles on children, and somehow I knew that, so he and I remained friends. My mother was the enemy.

When I was six, he removed my tonsils, which were in such bad condition they fell apart in the forceps and and he had to pick them out piece by piece.

My mother was the enemy there, too. The book about tonsils said that during my convalescence, I would be fed ice cream, but when I said I was hungry, the nurse brought me red Jello. It stuck to my stitches. Thirty years later, when I complained, my mother asked why I didn’t just ask for ice cream. She hadn’t known it was an issue. I told her she was supposed to have known.

I should have mentioned it to Doctor. I’m sure he would have prescribed ice cream.

Dr. Luckett practiced until just a year or so before his death. When he died, it was because he just wore out. He had spent his life giving to the community.

In his early years in Fentress, Dr. Luckett lived next door to my father’s uncle and aunt. They thought highly of him, and their son went into medicine because of his influence.

Not long before her death, Aunt Bettie told me a story I’d never heard:

Soon after Dr. Luckett opened his practice in Fentress, he was called to deliver the baby of an Hispanic woman, the wife of a farm laborer. He entered the one-room shanty and found the pregnant woman lying on a bare dirt floor. Chickens roamed loose a few feet away.

He was horrified. He later said he had never seen such misery.

Riding back to town in his buggy, he said to himself, “This must not be.” He went to work creating a small maternity ward in his office building on the main street of town. For the rest of his years there, he required women who didn’t have a proper place to give birth, and who couldn’t afford hospital care, to come to his clinic. He was determined to give their children the best start in life that he could.

“When he provided a good place for those women,” said my aunt, “he raised the level of our community.”

And he no doubt saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lives of both women and children.

In the mid-1990s, thirty years after Dr. Luckett died, a clerk at a pharmacy in San Marcos, fifteen miles from Fentress, noted the address on my check and said, “Fentress. I was born in Fentress.”

My Southern upbringing coming to the fore, I asked about her family.

“Oh,” she said, “my family never lived there. I was just born there.”

She had no idea that her mother had given birth at Doctor’s clinic.

There was something else she didn’t know–that we were part of the same family.

We were both Dr. Luckett’s babies.

Image by HujiStat (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons