May 24, 2018
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More than a million thanks

By Dr. Erik Steele, Special to the BDN

Over the last 38 years Maine has given me a mighty fine wife, a mighty fine life and much more. If I was a dog my tail would just about wag off every time I think about all the people of this state have done for me and my family, and spend the next two years loping around and lapping all your faces in gratitude.

Fortunately for you, I don’t have that much slobber, or that much time to do all the proper thanking I should. Instead, I will use this column to thank some of the 1.3 million Mainers to whom I owe so much for 38 years of a wonderful life in the slow lane. If you made this thanks- from-the-bottom-of-my-heart list, consider yourself slobbered with gratitude by newsprint proxy:

— All of you who have done so much to make my family feel at home in Maine, those who have coached them and taught them, cared about them and cared for them, plowed our highways and driveway, put smiley faces on our Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups, squeezed us in for appointments when we were desperate and countless other things. You made us love Maine, and in the rich tapestry of our lives, you were the warp.

— Most of the rest of you for making Maine a civil place in which to live, a place in which basic human kindness seems pretty normal, civility in political discourse is expected, and when you get cut off by some rushing idiot in traffic you expect their license plate to be from somewhere else. You make this a place where you can leave your car unlocked or your frailties exposed and not have either trashed, and where jerks are unusual enough they stand out like big zits on a small nose. In 38 years I bet I have met a few hundred thousand of you in one setting or another, and most of you are the kind of people I would love to have over for dinner (or rather, meet at Dysarts Family Restaurant for dinner).

— Its police and emergency services personnel (fire, EMTs, etc). I have driven almost a million miles on Maine’s roads, and worked in some of its loneliest places caring for some of its orneriest people, and never doubted that its police and other emergency services people had my back, the backs of the people with whom I worked and those of the patients for whom we cared. If I hit a moose some night on the way home, I knew those men and women would find me, take great care of me and give me every chance to make it home sooner or later. They’ve brought me patients in the ER for whom they have climbed up mountains and down ravines, gone into burning buildings and swift rivers, been spat and puked on and then gone back for more. On my best day I would be lucky to be that great.

— Maine’s health care professionals — nurses, therapists, mental health professionals, nursing assistants, hospital administrators, etc. There is a reason Maine’ health care rates are some of the best in America, and some of its most cost effective; it’s because these people actually care a great deal about doing the right thing for patients. Yes, they are imperfect, yes they are self-interested, too, yes they are part of our problems. But they are also smart, work like demons, are driven to do better and care most about what their patients and communities need. The cynical among you will snort in disbelief, but of the 38 years I bet I have literally spent at least 12 years worth of time working at their sides, and I know them as family. I am not wrong about them.

— The Bangor Daily News, and its editors, for the privilege of writing this column for them and all of you. They pay me $40 per column, and (don’t tell them this) I’d do this labor of biweekly love for free. I’ll keep doing it until they take away my keyboard and make me go lie down.

Erik Steele is the former chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems. He recently accepted a new job at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio.

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