County medical

by Wolf Pascoe on March 1, 2012

A thousand years ago, when I finished my residency, I found myself suddenly without medical insurance. It was the first time I was really on my own.

I’d been told if I joined the county medical society I could enroll in their group policy. I got the application and filled it out. The last page, “Recommendations,” had space for ten signatures. I needed to find ten doctors in the society to recommend me for membership.

I didn’t know anyone I could ask. None of my former professors were in the society.


I think, in this millenium, barriers of entry have gotten more flexible. But in the last millenium professional societies, like medieval guilds, had their standards to uphold.

I called the society to explain my predicament. Would three signatures do?

No. Ten signatures were ten signatures. That’s what it took to get in the club.




I began working as an anesthesiologist without medical insurance of my own. I was young, I figured. It would work out. Then I got a soft-tissue infection. It took weeks to clear up, during which time I couldn’t go into an operating room. I grew increasingly more desperate.

My first day back to work, I gave a particularly difficult anesthetic to a very sick patient. It went without a hitch.

“Nice work,” said the surgeon, a gray eminence, in the recovery room.

I had a brainstorm.

“Doctor,” I said, “Do you happen to be a member of the country medical society?”

Indeed he was. Might he be willing to recommend me so I could get insurance?

“Sure,” he said.

I was on my way.

I ran to my car to get the form. He signed.

Next to the signature space was a question box, “How many years have you known the applicant?”

There was room for a numeral. I figured he’d enter 1 and leave it at that.

He did write 1. After which he wrote, in large ink letters extending beyond the box, the word Day.




A sucker punch, that word Day.

I’d always known older men had the power to hurt me beyond reason, but not why. I was still years away from an understanding of what a father wound was.

I took the application home and considered my options. I wasn’t working in one place, but freelancing around at many hospitals. It would be a long time, I thought, before I had a steady job and anyone would really know me. And a long time before I’d have the guts to approach another older physician with another recommendation request.

I tore the application up.

I never joined the society.




I found an anesthesia position at a local hospital. I started writing. Somehow I got insurance. I began the long, slow process of healing what was torn inside me.

I forgot about the county society, until one night, about twenty years into my medical career, the phone rang in my study. It was an old man’s voice.

“Dr. Pascoe? I’m calling from the county medical society.”


“We’d like to invite you to join.”




I had been standing. The receiver grew heavy and I sat down. To a man who grows up without a father, every older male is something more than that.

“Do you still have that application with the ten references?” I said.

No. They’d changed that years ago. But even so, numbers were down. Not many young doctors wanted to join the society.

“I tried to join once,” I said. “When I started in practice. I didn’t know anyone who could recommend me.”

“I’m very sorry about that,” he said. He seemed genuinely saddened.

His voice was gravelly and solemn. He didn’t know me from Adam, but his tone was personal, caring, what you’d want in a mentor. I was needed by this man. The thought of hurting him was a hot stab behind my eyes.

It was absurd. I didn’t want to join.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“All right,” he said.

We hung up.

I suppose the call was a hundred times more difficult me me than for him. I suppose he moved on to the next name. I didn’t, and don’t, give a damn about the society.

But I still hear that voice.



Able to leap tall buildings



Healing the Absent Father Wound 

Image credit:  Staff of Asclepius by Christine from



Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf March 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm

This is exquisite. Some wounds never heal. They close over, but they never heal.


Wolf Pascoe March 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm

That’s about right. Why is it that as bad as it is for a child to lose a parent, it’s so much worse for a parent to lose a child?


Kristen @ Motherese March 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Gorgeous storytelling, as always. Somehow I thought the voice on the phone was going to turn out to be the gray-haired eminence who wrote “1 DAY.” But, then again, memoir is not short story.


Wolf Pascoe March 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm

If it had happened that way, I would have reported it, and I think it somehow would have worked as memoir. But I don’t think I could have faked it as fiction. Too O’Henry?


pamela March 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm

So glad you didn’t join that society. I missed being on the homecoming court in high school by 5 votes and I was so mad because I wanted to turn them down.

Anyway, your story is better and I know about those wounds too. Sometimes they end up being what makes our life so rich though – albeit painful as hell – but rich.


Wolf Pascoe March 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm

I cast aspersions on that homecoming court!


Privilege of Parenting March 2, 2012 at 12:53 am

In reading this my mind went where Kristen’s did—the wish was evoked, but not gratified. Still the truth rings lovely to my ears, and evokes compassion and kindredness, which is its own sort of gratification.

While I didn’t lose my dad, my mom did when she was a girl and she imagined, sometimes, that I was her dad, or like her dad, but I was three or four and rather confused by this sort of thinking. And then my dad himself did the father wounding, loving and then intermittently frightening. Thus I’ve had many parallel experiences of the powerful man who cuts to the quick, and I eventually drew the Janis Ian conclusion that the mentoring goes primarily to those who don’t need the mentoring. Mentors like to bet on winning horses. Maybe the wounded and unmentored grow deep rather than quick and have a natural compassion for all those who end up grouping together in the outgroup?


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2012 at 1:12 am

I’m so struck by “mentors like to bet on winning horses.” Just doesn’t seem fair.


Sirena March 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

We can look at wounds on many levels. Your blog post is multi-layered with medicne, fathers, mentors, and acutal real life physical wounds. We think the wounds you can’t see are often the ones that are most difficult to heal. Have you found a good mentor yet?


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm

A few, I suppose. The healing also comes when you mentor someone younger.


Andrea S. March 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Loved this post – so beautifully written. My father passed away when I was ten years old, so I too understand how such a loss impacts your life and your relationships for years to come, if not forever. Thank you for sharing this story!


Wolf Pascoe March 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I’m honored with your visit, Andrea.

I encourage readers to follow Andrea’s moving blog, No Parents, No Problem.


David March 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Glad you chose to stop feeding that beast. I was cheering for you at that point in the story.


Wolf Pascoe March 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I read your comment three times before I realized it said beast and not breast. As my college roommate used to say, I am my own Freudian gold mine.


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