Saturday, August 11, 2012


     I would have preferred a career in the arts.  But I came from a staunchly pragmatic family in Pennsylvania, and it affected me.  If you weren't working at something useful in my childhood world, you were worthless.  If you didn't have a job, you found one.  If there wasn't work to be done, you invented some.  My parents were busy people--and self-righteous about it.  Like all children who try to please their parents, I imitated them with industriousness, scrubbing floors with a toothbrush in dusty crannies every Saturday, raking, weeding, edging, planting, picking, canning, freezing, sweeping, scouring, and antisepticizing.  I was gifted with tremendous energy.
     I cherished books, but they were forbidden.  My father threatened to burn all reading material except school texts--I never once saw him reading a book.  Because he decreed books a waste of time I indulged the habit in secret, hurriedly ensconcing my library cache beneath the sofa cushions when his Cadillac rumbled down our serpentine drive.  He was a towering, moody man, his hands were thick as two-by-fours, and we children were terrified of his temper.  It would have been an act of suicidal proportions to contradict him.
     Therefore, when I left for college I took my belongings and returned home only as an occasional visitor.  My mother, a gentle but much-maligned woman, whose 1950's personality hid her true potential for decades, may have envied my self-determination--she was looking for ways to liberate herself from oppression, too.
     It took about ten years to recover from my childhood--if one ever recovers.  I studied philosophy, perhaps as a way of comprehending a world of difficult contradictions, or as a declaration of rebelliousness from the concrete thinking of my parents.  What could possibly be more "useless" than unraveling Hegel or poring over texts on logical positivism?
     The Vietnam War had peaked and I was caught up in the futility of its aims, and shared the protesters' anger.  College seemed superfluous in the context of war, so I spent a junior year in Scotland, hitchhiking during breaks through Europe and North Africa--then I dropped out of school altogether and took up work as a secretary in New York.  I was trying to figure out what mattered--no one can tell a person that.
    When I returned to college a few years later I won a scholarship to spend a year doing anthropology fieldwork in Africa.  It was while living among the Waswahili on the Lamu archipelago that I decided to become a doctor.  Seeing people who were suffering and dying from treatable diseases made me want to meet the world's need for doctors.  This eclipsed my other ambitions--and also met a dimly-felt compulsion to reconcile myself to the work-ethic of my upbringing.
     Besides, I had accumulated big college debts--and a secretary's wages were never going to encompass them, nor would my proclivity for art or anthropology.  Medical school would pile on more debt, but as a doctor, at least, I'd have a way to pay it off.  After that, I thought I might work for an  organization like Catholic Charities or Doctors without Borders.
     I finished medical training with $200K in loans and four prized little children--who had to be born during medical school, because by the time I finished residency I was already thirty-seven.  I never married, so the responsibility for their care and upbringing was solely mine, and when severe autism was diagnosed in one I could no longer contemplate leaving the country.
     Autism is a syndrome characterized by difficulty with language and social cues (my son cannot speak and requires 24-hour care)--therefore, the idea of imposing a radical culture shift on these children was out of the question.  We packed a U-Haul and moved to Florida, where warm weather and a long growing season allowed us to spend lots of time outdoors.
     During our first six years I worked for University of Florida's College of Medicine, teaching medical students about medical problems that typify a rural practice.  Later I opened a solo clinic in the same location when, for political and fiscal reasons, the university shuttered many of its rural clinics, including my Hawthorne outpost.
     My Pennsylvania family was estranged in those years, as sometimes happens when everyone has children and careers to juggle, and when grandchildren are perceived as "more bother than they're worth."  Now that we are settled and our children are all adults my mother and four brothers and sisters are somewhat closer, and we visit occasionally.
     If I weren't preoccupied with the government's raid on my clinic and with a feeling (deliberately fostered by pumped-up federal agents) of impending doom, I would be working, in my spare time, on "Carmine's Farm," a 300-acre property I purchased and designated as the site of a nonprofit residential farm for adults with autism.
     My son, Carmine, is twenty-five and, like thousands of other autistic adults, has been marginalized by America's incapacity to integrate people with disabilities into our social matrix.  It is unclear what will happen to people like Carmine when their parents are no longer able to care for them--since the antiquated institutions which once warehoused young people with extreme incapacities are closing.  Autistic adults have a longer life expectancy than the rest of us.
     It's possible that one day my vision of a wholesome, farm community with meaningful work and leisure for people with autism will be fulfilled.  I wonder why so much of this country's tax revenue ($8.1 billion this year, for the FBI alone) is being funneled into costly law-enforcement wild-goose chases, like the investigation of my medical clinic--which should have revealed, after two years, the clinic's integrity.  Would admitting this fact be an embarrassment for the FBI?  Does the FBI have to legitimize its attacks by indicting people like me, even when we're innocent?
      Why isn't some of our tax money, instead, being routed to humane and desperately needed projects like the autism farm?  Do we really need so much policing?  Would I say this if I myself weren't being policed?


  1. "while living among the Kiswahili "....Kiswahili are not a tribe but rather a language....the correct reference is Swahili

    Sorry doc

  2. Thank you, dear Editor, for the correction. I have amended the post. The term I intended to use was Waswahili, which signifies the people among whom I lived. Even more accurate would be "Bajuni," the group of people (and dialect of Kiswahili they speak) who are of mixed Arab, Indonesian and African ancestry and settled along the cost of Kenya and Tanzania. They have their own culture and religious tradition (Muslim derived). It is among the Bajuni that I spent my time way back then.