The Fly in the Currant Cake

Nothing seems to please a fly so much as to be taken for a currant;
and if it can be baked in a cake and palmed off on the unwary, it dies happy.
~Mark Twain

Today I will wrap up 45 years of uninterrupted training and doctoring. Most of that time, I have worried I’m like a fly hiding among the black currants hoping to eventually become part of the currant cake. 

Maybe no one has noticed. These days we call it the “impostor” syndrome. Mark Twain knew all about currant cake and how easy it was for a fly to blend into its batter.

Even while bearing three children and going through a few surgeries myself, I’ve not been away from patients for more than twenty consecutive days at any one time.  This is primarily out of my concern that, even after a few weeks, I would forget all that I’ve ever known. In fact, half of what I learned in medical school and residency over forty years ago has evolved, thanks to new discoveries and clarifying research. I worried if I were to actually to step away from doctoring for an extended time, then return to see patients again, I would be masquerading as a physician rather than be the real thing. A mere fly among the currants palmed off on the unwary.

If being truly honest, those who spend their professional lives providing medical care to others always share this concern: if a patient only knew how much we don’t know and will never know, despite everything we DO know, there would really be no trust left for us at all.

Of course, some say, didn’t the COVID pandemic prove our ignorance? Physicians started at Ground Zero with a novel virus with unclear transmissibility and immense potential to wreak havoc on the human body … or cause no symptoms whatsoever. We had no collected data to base prevention or treatment decisions: would masks just protect others or would they only protect ourselves, or maybe they protect both? Could a common inexpensive anti-inflammatory/antimalarial drug be beneficial or would a parasitic wormer medication be somehow effective to fight the devastation of the virus?

Effective treatments are still being sought all these months later; others have been debated, studied and discarded as worthless.

Or would this pandemic finally resolve thanks to effective yet controversial public health mandates while rapidly distributing highly effective vaccines developed from many prior years of carefully performed research?

During the past 16 months, your next door neighbor, or the loudest tweet on Twitter proclaimed more expertise than the average medical professional and definitely had a stronger opinion. At least we doctors knew how much we didn’t know and how much was simply guess work based on experience, good intentions and hopeful prayer. Gradually, while lives were lost, including too many of our own, real data began to trickle in so decisions could be made with some evidence backing them. But even that data continues to evolve, day by day, as authentic medical evidence always does.

That doesn’t stop all the “quack” flies out there from climbing into the batter pretending to be currants. With so much rapidly changing medical information at everyone’s fingertips, who needs a trained physician when there are so many other resources – sketchy and opportunistic though they may be – for seeking health care advice?

Even so, I am convinced most patients really do care that doctors share the best information they have available at any point in time. None of us who are doctoring wants to be the “fly” in the batter of health care.

As I meet with my last patient today, I know over forty years of clinical experience has given me an eye and an ear for the subtle signs and symptoms that no googled website or internet doc-in-the-box can discern.  The avoidance of eye contact, the tremble of the lip as they speak, the barely palpable rash, the hardly discernible extra heart sound, the fullness over an ovary, the slight squeak in a lung base.  These are things I am privileged to see and hear and about which I make decisions together with my patients.  What I’ve done over four decades has been no masquerade; out of my natural caution, I am not appearing to be someone I am not.  This is what I was trained to do and have done for thousands of days and many more thousands of patients during my professional life, while passing a comprehensive certification examination every few years to prove my continued study and changing fund of knowledge.

The hidden fly in the currant bush of health care may be disguised enough that an unwary patient might gobble it down to their ultimate detriment. I know I’ve not been that doctor. I’ve been the real thing all these years for my patients, even if I’ve seemed a bit on the tart side at times, yet offering up just enough tang to be exactly what was needed in the moment and in the long term.

And someday, hopefully not too soon, I will die happy having done this with my life.

My ID photo from my first year of medical school 1976
45 years later…

A new book from Barnstorming is available to order here:

46 thoughts on “The Fly in the Currant Cake

  1. Oh my goodness, your patients will greatly miss you! (As I am sure you will miss them too)

    I hope someone with the level headed intelligence you have shared with your patients takes your place – but you sound irreplaceable to me. Enjoy your retirement and keep up the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your patients will miss you for sure, Emily. I remember the eye-roll my doctor gave me when I mentioned Dr Google. That cannot replace the doctor sitting in front of me, taking my hand, and saying, ‘this is what we are going to do.’ I retired last year. Enjoy it, Emily. Life is good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you. Thank you for all you have done for your patients and all you have done for the readers of your blog. Your ministry is meaningful and needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on your 40 years of practicing medicine! I greatly admire you, my daughter, and all physicians who practice humbly and sensitively. With an incredible investment of yourself, you accompany us in caring for ourselves and others . I’m confident that you will continue to do those things in this next phase of your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Indeed, our patients will be sad to see you go.
    You have blessed many there through your medical service to your community.
    And you have blessed many who have been reading Barnstorming.
    When I look back, I see things God brought into my life,
    which have blessed me deeply through the years.
    You and your blog are one of the many blessing gifts from God.
    Again and again God blesses and provides the “Manna” needed for the day.
    May God continue to bless and provide each new morning.
    Linda Ziegler

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your years of service to aid in the healing and health of body, soul and mind of so many. May God grant you health, joy and peace in your coming days as you continue to live out your days.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Doctor-,After reading your wonderful blog and viewing your lovely photography for some years, I still don’t know your name, other than Dr. Barnstormer . I assume that has been intentional. I love your honesty, humanity and candor as you reflect on your profession. It is so refreshing, all the while staying connected to the mystery and organic nature of the earth as well as spiritual realms. All One! Thanks so much!! Please don’€™t stop writing! Blessings, Bob Keener

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You started Med School the year I graduated with my BA, having spent 10 years with the Canadian Armed Forces, taking night and summer school courses when and where I could, transferring credits back to my alma mater. Thankfully the following degrees in education and theology were more traditionally studied.

    Congratulations on a long and productive career, and on all the blessings you have brought to your patients and friend, Emily. My cousin semi-retired from surgery at Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, then finally retired from Skagit Regional Clinics. His Facebook page says “Happily Retired” but I note that he is frequently in touch with former colleagues … and they even more often with him.

    Like most of us retirees, you’ll soon find yourself even busier than you thought possible, with new adventures to fill your time and life. God bless you in this next stage of your life.
    Brian ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations on a job well done and may God richly bless you in your retirement years with much joy, health, family fun, and long life! In Jesus name!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Some day I pray the Lord will allow you to see how His glory, love and healing was demonstrated through your life. I marvel at how His Spirit enlivens our words and actions and does far more than we even see day by day.
    I am thankful you are not retiring from your blog. How you have ministered to me and so many others with the beauty that is in us and about us revealing an amazing God! My heart is filled with gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I hope you have a wonderful “after” life.
    You are an inspiration and a blessing.
    Please keep writing. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Big Congratulations to a kind and caring heart. At times, professions, or the world, is a little less better off for the loss of someone, you are one of those doctors. God bless you with many years of discovery or re-discovery of your own, with plenty of time to dally. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Congratulations!! I retired June 1 and understand it not easy to leave a job you love, and where you know you are helping and making  a difference.  May the days ahead be full of unexpected joy!Peggy MainSent from my Galaxy

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Emily – congratulations on your retirement. You have served your patients for many years and I am sure they will miss you. It will be interesting to see what your next goals are, as I cannot imagine you without one. You are a person who wants to serve others. Just don’t forget to serve yourself as well and enjoy the days ahead. Blessings to you and yours. May the days ahead hold many wonders and may you make many new and beautiful memories

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for your medical service. Having been a reader of your blog, I know that your patients have received so much more than medical help. You are a blessing to many!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you Sister, we would have been quite a pair in the exam room, distracted by all the “wonder and beauty” in the world we do dearly love. I wouldn’t have gotten any “doctoring” done! Blessings, Emily

    Like

  17. How very wonderful to have give so much help to so many fortunate people during your 40 year medical career! Congratulations on your well-earned retirement, I’m sure your farm, animals, family and those of us who read Barnstorming will enjoy your “extra” time. I love your photographs; I too have horses (in CT, so different!) and love the light of natural beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dear Donna, So good to hear from another horse owner! As you well know, there is really no retirement when there are horses on the farm and especially my very ancient Haflingers. They will keep me and my manure fork plenty busy!
    Blessings, Emily

    Like

  19. Thank you, Emily,
    Indeed, it has been a very challenging year.
    Thankfully, healing has been coming to me
    with encouragement from friends and God.
    God has brought into my life many resources to help me,
    as I walk my way through the grief process.
    “There is a balm in Gilead,
    To make the wounded whole…”
    comes to my mind as I sit here writing to you.
    Thank you for helping to spread the “balm of Gilead”
    for me and many to experience healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Convey on your retirement! You have earned this. I will be praying you enjoy this time with your family, horses, pets & farm. I know you are not one to sit still and will remain busy doing the Lord’s work including this blog which blesses so many. Thank you for your dedication & blessings to so many!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanks for sharing this today. You have me be more appreciative of the Drs I have. I am always a doubting patient, not so much with the practitioner but with the practices available.

    Well done. I am sure your patients will sorely miss you.

    Judy

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  22. dear emily, as a retired teacher i can identify with the mix of feelings one has when one walks away from so many years of “a job”, especially when it has been largely wonderful. congratulations!! may God give you many more fruitful years. i hope to hear more about what you may be learning from those grandkids, and the other things you have given your heart to. congratulations and blessings to you and yours…

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Well done, good and faithful Servant of the Lord. Enter into the joy of the Lord! And may your coming days be full of joy and peace and health and rest and freedom. I wish I could hug you! and look into your beautiful eyes and say, Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Judy, the best patient is the one with many questions. Sometimes there aren’t answers that either one of us likes or maybe no answers at all- the frustrating reality of “practicing” medicine when we are continuing to study the human body. Keep asking! Blessings, Emily

    Like

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