Up Close With Dr. E

Remembering summer


On Sunday morning, I was roused from sleep by fire: red hot throat, burning stomach, scorched forehead. My father, a pediatrician, instilled lessons about illness: A tummy ache is just a way of knowing “you’re alive,” all other symptoms would pass with time. More importantly, my body would heal when it reached a turning point, like a big bend in the Wabash River, where the current changed direction. At that point, I’d feel an uplifting vitality — the return of my health.

Sounds great. Except for the fact that on Day 2, I got worse. Much worse. A new symptom appeared: Fear. What if my illness was not like a Wabash River? What if I had a darker, more menacing disease, one more like the mighty Amazon River? You know, the river with flesh-eating piranha?

My wife took my temperature and, using the voice of a mother scolding her child, said, “Don’t work, stay in bed, take two Tylenol every four hours.”

I pleaded, “What’s my temperature?” “Don’t worry about it,” she snapped. Before leaving, she gathered up all my pens and paper.

When my wife and children abandoned me to see a Brad Pitt movie about zombies, loneliness triggered worry. What if I can’t work? How will I pay the bills? I had to keep my mind busy as a bee, so I collected my hidden writing materials and began this story about summer. (That should help me feel better)

A Summer Time Tale:

“Once in a Lifetime.” Those were the words my mother used to describe that special summer when I was eight. The creek behind our home had flooded, and when the turbulent waters receded, it left behind a hidden valley.

Inside this “Garden of Eden,” grew thousands of tomatoes and cantaloupe. Upon first sight, my mother whispered, “Hurry, get your red wagon.”

We stuffed the wagon chuck full of fresh produce, and off I’d go, into my first business. Door-to-door, I’d sell my goods. One week later, I discovered a small, untended orchard, where I collected apples. I added the apples to my wagon sales. That was when I experienced my first business setback. My mother had taken some of the apples to bake a pie. When I tasted the first bite of pie, “stop all apple sales immediately!” I could not part with those apples.

During that summer, I had difficulty falling asleep, because the excitement of the next day’s adventures overwhelmed me. But then, a colder day arrived, and it ushered in a change of season. I grew up, became an adult, and told myself, “Don’t expect adult life to be as exciting as childhood.” I fell prey to living under the knife of fear: What if I can’t earn enough money for my kids to go to school?

On Day 3, I wrote this: Summer shadows lie still, slumbering in the cool blue shade of an orchard of apple-bearing trees.

Planted long ago, in a hidden valley, the trees stood alone, untouched by the hands of time.

Summer sunshine — bold, brassy, fat, and sassy — bathed the orchard, slowly ripening the ruby-red fruit.

Summer wind, stormy and hotheaded, rolled over the treetops, moving them to and fro.

Three days of nausea, fever and chills had taken its toll. But what could I do?

I placed an apple in the palm of my hand and squeezed as tight as I could. Next, I repeated three words, three times; June, July, August … Once again, my eyes saw the shadows sleeping in the shade. My fingers felt the sun’s heat, and my ears perked up, as the summer wind tossed back its mighty head and roared.

On day four of my illness, I woke early and peeked out the window. Fresh sunlight warmed my face. Spleen-deep I felt it — that bend in the river which signaled the return of my health. I flew down the stairs, trotted into the kitchen, where my wife spied me. “You look better.”

She cut a slice of piping hot apple pie, dropped in ice cream, and handed it to me. When I ate the first bite, an image burst into my mind. My mother was standing in her kitchen, wearing a lemon-yellow apron (her favorite color), and cutting up the apples I had gathered. Her face beamed with a smile.

At that moment, I felt a deep vitality, a second “rounding of the bend.” I realized that everything I required to be happy had already been placed into my hands. The love of, and from, my family, friends, and faith. How did I know? One bite of apple pie al a mode and my stomach told me so.

On Day 8, something curious happened. At night, when I tried to sleep, my mind spun with excitement: tomorrow, we were going to look for a new puppy. Also, I’m having spells where my feet yearn to run in tall grass and my arms ache for a tree to climb. What’s going on?

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.