Pure Medicine

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Pure Medicine

By: Robert Flaherty MD
Posted on February 17, 2015 FREE Insights Topics:

Introduction by John Baden

Robert Flaherty, MD is a family medicine doc who works at Montana State University and teaches in its WWAMI medical school program. He is also an extremely active and responsible member of our community.  For example, Dr. Bob is the consulting physician for our Warriors and Quiet Waters foundation for wounded warriors.  Bob is also an entrepreneur and a regular presenter in FREE's seminars and policy salons.  In sum, I know Bob very well and respect him immensely.

Dr. Bob has wide intellectual interests and steers by a classical liberal gyroscope.   He is a strong believer in the importance of responsible liberty, community, and creativity.  These values are evident in his Wall Street Journal column in the Weekend Edition of January 17-18.  This week and next week's FREE Insights are the manuscript he submitted to and was published by the Journal. (By the way, only about 1% of submissions are accepted by the Journal.)

Ramona and I had know of the Bozeman Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) Warming Center since its beginning.  Reading our friend's Wall Street Journal article encouraged us to make our first substantial donation to it.  After you read part one, and especially next week's conclusion, you may well want to contribute.  You will also further understand why so many successful people find the Bozeman community such an attractive place to live. HRDC, and especially its Warming Center, demonstrate our sense of community and of responsibility. The address of this private sector 501 C-3 public charity is 32 South Tracy, Bozeman, MT 59715. 


From The Wall Street Journal, January 17-18, 2015, Dr. Robert Flaherty

Some wait in battered pickup trucks or cars or vans, cigarette smoke drifting from half-open windows. Others emerge from of the freezing darkness. Most are men but some women and sometimes leading anxious children. They cluster around the locked door, some talking quietly, many smoking, waiting. At exactly 7 pm, Ray opens the door and they form a mostly orderly line inside at the front desk to be assigned their locker and bunk. No pushing, no anger. I sense a quiet gratitude.

It is already below zero outside the converted machinery rental shop that serves as Bozeman’s Warming Center for the homeless. The HRDC, a local non-profit, opened it a few years ago after a homeless man froze to death in an empty U-Haul truck. It is only open in the winter, and the overnight guests must leave by 7am, back on the streets. But for tonight perhaps no cold lonely deaths.

For a couple of years I have come here on Wednesday nights after I have seen my last office patient. I am here to answer questions and provide medical care. Not treating hypertension or diabetes, because the homeless can rarely afford the luxury of treating their chronic diseases. I’m here to clean ears, trim toenails, drain abscesses, listen to their worries and sometimes their stories, give advice. To fix small but important problems that will allow them to survive on the edge of society for another day or another week. I bring a large toolbox with some basic medical instruments and several OTC medications. I don’t bring a prescription pad, mostly to remove narcotics from the possibilities, and that changes the dynamic for the better.

The gas heater hanging from the ceiling works hard to warm a humid mix of human smells and low conversations. As I take off my coat several of tonight’s guests greet me. “Hey, Dr. Bob.” They like the “Dr.” and they also like the “Bob”. So do I. Karyn gives me a hug. “I got that tooth pulled, and it feels a lot better. Wanna look?” I look and share her delight that pain can become merely a memory.

Tiffany is working with me again tonight. She is a first year medical student in the WWAMI program at Montana State University. Intelligent, outgoing, a natural with people. She is checking blood pressures for a line of men, but the blood pressure is not the point. A beautiful friendly young woman who cares is a rare and pleasant experience for them. I tease them, “Hey, how come you guys don’t ask me to take your blood pressure?” They smile at me, but only a little sheepishly.

Harvey calls me over. He has settled into his usual spot at the big table in the common room. Several regular guests have a customary sitting spot or locker or bunk. Comfortable consistency in a chaotic world.

Harvey is a big man, friendly and open and seems respected by the others. His laptop is tethered to his cell phone WiFi hotspot and he is, as usual, watching a streaming video. Like many other guests, homeless in the 21st century but connected.

“My feet have been hurting bad. Can you take a look?” He has impressive thickening of the soles of his heels, with large red cracks. I give him a tube of foot cream. “Use it like it says here and let me know how it is doing next week.”

“Thanks, doc.” Then, hesitantly, “Why do you come here, doc? Why do you do this?” I smile, “I’m on a mission from God”. He gets the movie reference and smiles also. I think he also gets the truth of it.

A few weeks ago I helped Jackie with his hip tendonitis. That is better but tonight he asks me about his newly broken tooth. “It is pretty painful. What do ya think?”  One of his left molars has lost the posterior wall. “Here is some sugarless gum. Chew a piece and press it around the tooth.” He does and it helps. “Be at the CHP Dental Clinic tomorrow morning at 7:30. They have walk-in clinic then and will take care of that tooth.” I give him a card with a map, he nods and walks over to the TV.


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