CRACKED MARBLES: LIFE’S LESSONS FOR A MAINE SURGEON, by Tom Palmer, M.D. (Tiffen Press of Maine, Brooksville, $16.95)
If you’re the disciplined sort, you could read Tom Palmer’s “Cracked Marbles: Life’s Lessons for a Maine Surgeon” one chapter a day so that it would last you a bit more than three weeks. Or you could consume the whole thing in an evening and wind up with a good sense of the retired Bangor surgeon, who moved to Maine with wife Mary Ellen in 1956.
Those of us who’ve spent a half-century or more in eastern Maine will join him in remembering the snowstorm of 1962, visits to the Maine woods and special spots along the coast.
As for the characters you’ll meet in these pages, yes, they’ll stay with you. Just remember, Palmer describes the book as “fiction based in fact.”
So maybe that doctor you’re sure is — fill in the blank — really isn’t. Is he?
“Cracked Marbles” would be a good choice for a book club, readers sitting around a table and talking about their favorite characters.
Didn’t you love “Sara Beal,” the widow from the coast who did so well after her cancer surgery and taught her surgeon so much about growing old gracefully?
And why did so many of these older ladies recover well? Let “Dr. Harry Byrd” answer that.
“He thought, perhaps, it was because of their philosophy of just accepting whatever came along and doing what had to be done, or because they were proven tough survivors beneath their fragile and delicate-appearing surface.”
Among the most powerful stories in the book is “The Lady from Hell,” a reference to a member of the Black Watch Regiment in World War II. The former soldier kind of lost his way after coming to Maine, living on the streets and even sleeping near the Hannibal Hamlin statue in downtown Bangor.
Angus ended up being treated at “St. Augustine’s Hospital,” where the Sisters not only restored his physical health but put him to work on the grounds.
Sara and Angus will stay with you, but the real heart-grabber is Calvin, the 10-year-old who knows all about the battle his white and red corpuscles are having in his little body full of leukemia.
“That’s why I have to have blood transfusions to replace the red copsuckles and medicine to kill the white copsuckles. I just wish it didn’t have to make all my hair fall out. Probably I shouldn’t expect to live very long, but that’s OK because I know God wants me.”
Calvin, in fact, is the owner of the glass full of cracked marbles, a treasure he left to Dr. Byrd when he died.
Whenever being a doctor proved to be particularly tough, Byrd “would sit at his desk and look up at the cracked marbles. His spirits never failed to be lifted.”
Palmer’s book is subtitled “Life’s Lessons for a Maine Surgeon,” a description that could be true for anyone who reads it.
“You can learn from people who have these terrible problems,” Palmer acknowledged recently.
But the author has a specific point to make, as is evident from a statement in the front of “Cracked Marbles”: “A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to sponsor ongoing medical education for physicians on the topic of doctor-patient relationships.”
A half-century after he moved to Bangor to practice medicine, “modern medicine is losing a lot,” Palmer said. “Personal contact with doctor and patient is disappearing.”
It distresses him that some physicians are looking at a computer when they should be focusing on the patient.
Practicing medicine is “a whole different scenario” these days, Palmer said, pointing out that a rush to say, “Your time’s up” in the examining room may well cut off the patient who doesn’t bring up what’s really on his mind until the very end of the visit.
Palmer’s wish is that doctors will read his book, and “I’m hoping maybe it will help bring back some of that concern” that comes with taking the time with patients.
Tom Palmer will hold book-signings for “Cracked Marbles” 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Eastern Maine Medical Center; and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor.