Taking To The Sky But Staying Connected To The Earth

By John H. McCord, DPM

Making hospital rounds to care for patients with infections and diabetic wounds is at times depressing. This morning’s rounds were particularly difficult. My first patient was a 53-year-old heavy equipment operator who had just lost his fourth and fifth rays due to diabetes and gangrene. It is not likely that the wound will heal. He is single and does not get many visitors. He seems sad and tired of fighting. My second patient is a 47-year-old high school teacher. She is in denial about the seriousness of her mixed infection that is destroying her foot and leg. She keeps talking about needing to get well and back to school. She is in charge of the prom. Her bone scan shows signs of osteomyelitis. I tried to make her aware that limb loss is a possibility. She wanted to talk about her students. I left the hospital feeling the weight of my job to help them heal and keep their legs. It was a typical spring day in western Washington with scattered rain showers and patches of sunlight through the clouds. I decided to stop at the airport on my way home to change the batteries in my portable GPS. There wasn’t much activity. I seemed to be the only person on the field. I drove to my hangar, unlocked the huge door and slid it open. My old Cessna was covered with dust and bird droppings from sitting in the hangar all winter. Though I am an instrument rated pilot, I gave up winter flying after a few frightening experiences with ice building up on the windscreen and wings. My plane was a mess. I changed the GPS batteries and tried to wipe the dust and crud off. It was stubborn and would need a good washing when we had a really sunny day. There was a soft rain falling and I remembered the advice I got from an old pilot years ago. His plane always looked pristine but I never saw him or anybody else washing it. He told me that whenever it rains, he takes his airplane out and gives it a good wash. I looked at the sky and at my dusty, dirty Cessna. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting at the end of runway 34, checking my magnetos and announcing my intent to take off. I pushed the throttle in and the plane rolled forward. It picked up speed and soon I was airborne. I flew over the hospital and thought about my two patients for a moment. Then I returned my attention to the sky around me and the scenery below. I tuned in a classical music station on my direction finder and relaxed to experience the gift of flight. Rain showers were scattered about the coastal hills. They were light and visibility was good. The sun shined between the clusters of clouds. I headed toward the nearest shower. As I flew closer, rain began to splatter on my windscreen, creating a muddy, distorted appearance. When I was flying in the shower, the screen cleared. I noticed that the wings were bright and shining. When I was sure that my plane had a good bath, I made a slow 180-degree turn and headed out of the rain shower. Soon the rain stopped and I flew into the sunshine. A rainbow appeared beneath me. The music was a bit somber so I tuned in a baseball game. I flew back to the airport and made a few practice landings. As I pushed my plane back into the hangar, I admired the shining green fuselage and the clear windscreen. I looked up in the sky and silently thanked the old pilot for his advice that cleansed my airplane and, on this day, my soul. I will make rounds tomorrow morning and tell my patients about the flight and ask them about the important things in their lives. I will remind myself that I am not “rounding” on diabetic foot ulcers and infections. I am rounding on people who are at the moment very dependent on my knowledge and skills as a podiatrist. My love affair with airplanes has kept my emotional cup filled for the past 43 years. In my youth, I viewed aircraft as a means of escaping the difficult aspects of life. As an old podiatrist, I use my airplane to stay connected with life’s challenges. I will always be thankful for the gift of flight. Dr. McCord is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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