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What I'm Reading, or the Sainted Dr G
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A while ago, I wrote that something here about "words never thought I'd say" in jest. I get to do it again, about something slightly more serious that me and Martha Stewart.

I'm reading an iUniverse book and I'm loving it. There. I said it. For those who don't know iUniverse, it's one of the huge new questionable "publishers" mostly offering books that, well, that shouldn't be published. There are, however very strong exceptions to this blanket statement but it's a "publisher" where you have to pay to get your book published. So, you see the conflict; I don't like that sort of thing. But the book I'm reading is so valuable to me that I'm going to ahead and buy a copy. Full price. And when was the last time you heard me say that, hm? I will buy it from an independent - Powell's has it in stock, I see. But let me tell you why I want to own this book, which is making me cry a lot.

The books' called LETTING GO, and it's a memoir by William A. Gruber, M.D. Yeah, Dr. Gruber. If you've ever heard me talk about my adventures with "the medical mystery" live with aka the orthopedic nightmare condition no one can diagnose, you might have heard me mention "the Sainted Bill Gruber". Dr. Bill Gruber stands out in my life as THE single best doctor I ever had the good fortune to meet. Not just the best orthopedist, the best doctor. And I've had some good ones, still do. But this man was so remarkable - so skilled and so caring - that he helped to get me through one of the worst times of my life.

Apologies for this lengthy explanation, but some of you might not have heard this story. Bill Gruber was the orthopedist that I was referred to when I first developed a hip fracture back in 1993. I was seeing a rheumatologist, a fine guy named Jeff Carlin and I just happened to have a visit scheduled the day after something went DRASTICALLY wrong for me. After doing my cute "good news, my hands feel better thanks, bad news, I don't seem to be able to walk" routine, Carlin took x-rays, came back and asked me when I'd broken my hip. We did this "huh?" routine for several weeks until he insisted I see an orthopedist; broken bones are not the purview of a specialist in immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, although there's sure overlap. No, I didn't want to, I said over and over. All those orthopedists know is surgery and I've had a sucky time with surgery and it doesn't work and they all treat me like I'm dumb (time out for channeling Lina Lamont "whaddya think I am, DUMB or somethin?" thank you, I'm back) and and and I LIKED Dr. Carlin and whine whine whine. So Dr. Carlin got past my defenses with the two smartest things he could have said: one was "if he hadn't been an orthopedist, he would have been the best family doctor, he's got the best bedside manner in the world" and then he said "and he's my orthopedist". Given that Dr. Carlin could tell what I wanted AND I liked HIM, I gave in and headed down the hall to Dr. Gruber's practice.

So WHY is he head and shoulders above and beyond all other doctors? Because he is kind. Because he was the BEST listener I've ever met in a doctor's office (and my current primary care doc is very good mind you) and assumed I had a brain. Because he clearly took it personally, without it seeming to involve Big Doctor's Ego, to understand what was wrong with me. Because he is soft-spoken but focused. Because he was willing to say "I don't know" when he didn't know, and could see that didn't upset me. Because when he conferred with someone about me over the phone, he made sure to do it where I could hear the conversation, so I would k now what HE knew at the same time he knew it. (and no, you don't ever want to hear your doctor say to the pathologist "oh, she doesn't have a baseline? There is no baseline?") Because he DID have the best bedside manner of any doctor I've ever had, which I needed because I was scared. This was scary - ever had something no one can diagnose? Yeuuugh. Because when he said for maybe the third time, "we really need to consider doing a bone biopsy", the idea of which scared me shitless, he held my hand while I cried. Just sat there, took my hand, let me cry until I was done. (and there was really no need to be scared but doesn't it just sound creepy and painful and scary?) And finally, or rather first and foremost, because of this:

We meet, he's read Carlin's notes, seen the x-rays. He examines me thoroughly. Then says "get dressed and we'll talk". So I get dressed and he comes in, sits and says "what questions do you have?" This may not seem like a big thing, but it was huge. Implied in that one sentence was all the above: it's "I know you're scared" and it's "I'm here to help" and it's "you have a brain so of course you have questions" and it's "I have all the time you need" and it's, well, it was a big deal to me. We've all spent time with doctors who were too busy to really pay attention to us, or who seemed annoyed at our questions. I've seen orthopedic surgeons since I was about 7 years old and I've "fired" more than one for being unfeeling or unable to listen to me or whose care, I thought, was just unacceptable. Dr. Gruber never even got UP to leave the room during any of my visits until it was clear I had asked everything I needed to and understood what he'd said to me.

So about 5 years after I started seeing the Sainted Dr. G, I get a letter saying he's ending his practice of medicine. Oh dear god. I had joked that he' d never be able to retire because I'd simply find out where he lived and show up on his front porch. The idea simply of the hassle involved in taking my (oy god bring the little red wagon) file and x-rays and EXPLAINING all this crap to someone, you gotta be kidding. But it was awful. Dr. Gruber retired from practicing medicine in 1999 because he had tested positive for Hepatitis C. And he got it from a patient; it's clear that whenever it had happened, it was from one of those not-uncommon needle sticks during surgery. Oh god. And I remember writing to him when I got the letter but most of it was probably "you can't leave me" and not enough of it was "thank you for everything and I hope you'll be okay". I mean I'm sure I said something like it, but not enough.

So I've been going to PT (don't ask) for the past few weeks and my lovely therapist Marty and I got to talking. We think we last saw each other when I still was a patient of Bill Gruber's. So we caught up on things - she has seen him recently and told me he'd written a book. About the affect of a patient on his life. And I borrowed the book from Marty yesterday.

It's NOT exactly my kind of book but it's exactly, from what I know of Bill Gruber, the book he WOULD write. It's about the struggle of one of his patients with a series of physical hard times, of his own discovery of the Hepatitis C and having to quit practicing medicine and his life since. And the impact that this very ill patient had on his life. It's about finding peace, and yeah, "letting go" and there's a strong spiritual element (there's why it's not for me, I don't do that stuff). And I'm not even done with it (but I'm trying to finish it since I see Marty probably for the last visit tomorrow). But I KNOW these people. I didn't know the patient, but he was referred to Dr. Gruber by Jeff Carlin. And I know Linda Roselle, Dr. Gruber's long-time assistant who was very good to me. And I know that office, and that hospital. And it's an honest and heart-felt book, and it sounds, as I say just like the book I'd expect Bill Gruber to have written. So I'm going to finish the book, give it back to Marty, buy a copy and then go call Jeff Carlin (who's apparently back in Seattle) and ask him to call Bill Gruber and get his address and phone number so I can call and say thank you. Again.

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