January 25, 2020
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Dr. Erik Steele: After 16 years and 300,000 words, a final farewell

Dr. Erik Steele

If pigs could fly, none that ever winged wondrously aloft would have more fun than I have had arranging almost 300,000 words into 426 columns for the Bangor Daily News over the last 16 years. But at the bottom of this column is the last of those words, as this is the last of those columns. It’s been a labor of love, but love is not enough to sustain some labors and I am ready to let this one go.

I have a lot of people to thank for all that fun, including:

— All of you who read my columns, praised them and peed on them, but most of all told me how they touched you and yours. Everyone who told me you sent it out to a mother in Arizona or stuck it on the fridge for your children to read, or that you cried when you read what I wrote, or thanked me for what I said about mental illness, or whatever, you made my writer’s heart pitter and patter in appreciation. In particular, I want to thank those who I think are my best fans — women over 65 who came from Aroostook County and are die-hard Red Sox supporters.

Writing for you made me think about you, to consider what would have meaning to you, and want to help you understand what you needed to know in order to be masters of your own healthcare destinies (to the extent any of us can). You made me examine my profession and my industry without fear, re-examine what I believed and become more than I would have been if I did not have my column connection with you. In short, you made me a better writer, a better physician and a better person, a debt I will always carry happily and with great gratitude;

— The BDN and the editors there, who gave me the privilege of writing for all of you. If I were Bill Gates, I would endow the BDN forever;

— My wife, who is my best friend and has been my best editor. She has an English teacher’s eye and a reader’s ear, and kindly but comprehensively pointed out every flaw when she saw it in advance. When I failed to show it to her first, I often suffered writer’s regret because the flaws were more likely to make it to the printed page;

— My patients, physician and nurse colleagues, other caregivers, and especially my daughters, all of whom allowed me to write about them. That meant I wrote from my heart and from my head, about people I cared for, admired, and loved. Shakespeare may have been a better writer than I, but not because he had better material to work from;

— Eastern Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, for allowing me to write my column year after year with total freedom. The organizations that paid me must often have cringed at what I wrote, but never, ever once pressured me to do anything but write what I thought was important.

— Those of you who kindly and thoughtfully taught me that the writer using humor in the description of patients bears some responsibility when the attempt comes across to the reader as humor’s flip side, derision.

In the end, my column was always another way to practice medicine, and help readers — like patients — lead healthier lives. So enough thanking — now some thinking. I think one of the smartest things I ever said on these pages was that good health was freedom, and maintaining the best health you could have was maintaining as much freedom as you could have. So remember this thought if nothing else I ever wrote; every walk you take, every cigarette you give up, every pound of extra weight you lose, and every other bit of good health you work to preserve, is a bit of freedom. Don’t give up a shred of it without a fight.

So, goodbye from Ohio, and thanks for a great run. I hope to see you some day on the first tee at Bangor Municipal Golf Course — I intend to still be playing there when I am 90.

Erik Steele is the former chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems. He now works at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio.


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