BANGOR, Maine — Friends urged Tom Palmer to publish the stories he wrote over the years about his work as a Bangor surgeon, but he wasn’t sure they were very good.
Still, he agreed to have Brooksville’s Tiffin Press issue “Cracked Marbles: Life’s Lessons for a Maine Surgeon.”
“I’m amazed. They’re selling like hot cakes,” Palmer said Monday. “Every place I go, people ask me about it.”
The book is “fiction based in fact,” as he put it, with the result that every chapter introduces readers to someone new, another “patient” they wind up caring about just as Palmer did.
If the stories resonate with readers, the author has a theory why.
“People are kind of fed up with the way medicine is going,” he said, especially with doctors who pay too much attention to computers and not enough to the patient. Readers are hearing “my plea to continue the heart of medical care and not let it disappear. We’re in danger of losing the art of medical care.
“People bring you their life problems,” he said.
Palmer started writing when he retired as a surgeon, though life sometimes intervened, as when his wife, Mary Ellen, required care during several years of illness before her death.
Working on his project, “I was discouraged by some writers who thought it was not worthwhile,” he recalled, “but others encouraged me.
“Joan McCracken really, really urged me to do something, as did Bob Bach,” Palmer said. “They said these were wonderful stories, and they urged me to do more.”
McCracken and Bach are both physicians who have taken new paths in recent years, McCracken running Tiffin Press and Bach as a minister.
“I’m just delighted that people find it all interesting,” Palmer said of his book.
He will hold signings at Bangor hospitals:
• 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
• 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at St. Joseph Hospital.
Palmer said that in many ways, taking care of patients is similar to taking care of flowers.
“I love gardening. It’s been my hobby over the years,” he said, “my escape from worry about patients.
“Gardening is a lot like the practice of medicine. You put a little fertilizer on, you get the weeds out, you prune a little here and there. And bingo, out comes this beautiful production of Mother Nature. It’s the same, really, as taking care of people. I just love people, and they’ve been an inspiration to me.”
A portion of the proceeds of “Cracked Marbles” will go to sponsor ongoing medical education for physicians on the topic of doctor-patient relationships.
To Palmer, medicine “is not a business, it’s not a job. It’s a vocation. Humility is important — the doctor who knows everything is so wrong. A sense of humor is important, and a love of patients.”
And will there be another book of Tom Palmer’s stories? It’s possible.
“I have a lot of things in my head I’d like to share,” he said.
“Cracked Marbles” is available for $16.95 at bookstores and will be available at book signings.