I used to skip school to watch the noon train pass through town. It was the Great Northern Empire Builder, state of the art for the mid-1950s. I envied the people who could afford to ride in the scenic dome cars and eat in the dining cars. They had done something right in their lives to gain these privileges. My goal was to do something right so one day I could buy a train ticket to anywhere at anytime.
Reality was another issue. I was somewhere south of the middle ranking in my fifth grade class and probably destined to work several crappy jobs to make ends meet. Still, one can dream.
I started thinking about these things in January while sitting in an oak paneled library/lounge on a luxury cruise ship. The trip started in Singapore, sailed through Thailand and Vietnam, and ended in Hong Kong. The weather was balmy and a wonderful contrast to the wet snow of my Pacific Northwest home.
The ship was relatively small as cruise ships go. There were about 600 passengers, mostly at and beyond retirement age. It was easy to start conversations and make friends.
We would share life experiences and usually get to the topic of, “What did you do in life to afford to cruise on this ship?”
There were interesting stories. One fellow was a history professor at a Dublin university but it was the 13 patents he owned as a physicist in an earlier career that afforded him the privilege of booking this journey. He got a graduate degree in history after he retired and pursued his passion as a historian and professor.
Others had interesting life stories and careers. Inevitably, they would ask me how I ended up on this cruise. My story was not nearly as interesting or glamorous as most. I explained that I sat down at age 22 with three options on my table. I had a degree in public health and was working as a restaurant inspector. My choices were:
• To stay in a job that was boring and that I hated
• To sign an acceptance contract to take flight training in the Air Force
• To reply to the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine and accept a slot in the class of 1974
I weighed my options and crossed off the health inspector’s job. I contemplated the flight training and though I loved airplanes and flying, I did not want to participate in the Vietnam War. I was aware of the bogus “domino theory” of John Foster Dulles and didn’t believe it was worth dying for or killing people who I would one day meet and admire as I did on a visit to North Vietnam in January.
I replied to OCPM and sent the $100 deposit. That is how I ended up on the fifth cruise of my five-year-old retirement.
Being financially comfortable is not the only perk of having dedicated 34 years to the care of feet and ankles. My 75-year-old pediatrician friend and I recently met at a diner for breakfast. The place was a 1950s style diner with no new fixtures since the Eisenhower administration.
We were making plans for a class on the prevention of childhood obesity. It was a paradox that we both ordered chicken fried steak smothered in sausage gravy with hash browns and a fried egg on the side. It was good but we will not do that ever again.
An old gentleman and his wife stopped at our table and thanked us for being good doctors for their grandchildren and for his wife’s feet. When they left, I asked my friend who they were. He said, “Beats me.”
Another example of the benefit of my decision 45 years before occurred when we asked the waitress for our bill. She pointed at the old couple as they were leaving and told us that they bought our breakfast for us for being good doctors. That kind of thing counts more to me than cruising in Europe and Asia.
Whenever you are having a difficult time in your podiatry practice, think about how grateful your patients are to you for your skills and care. This has made me feel like the richest old man in the world. I look back on the decision I made sitting at that table at age 22 and thank whatever muse or angel that guided me to podiatry.
Now it is time for the gym. That chicken fried steak, you know.
Dr. McCord retired from practice in 2008 at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.