I hope this note finds you well.
Ten years ago, Josh Elrod asked me if I would write a few pieces for the new magazine he was publishing about Saline County, Saline County Lifestyles. I had written a novel and a couple of plays. I thought, sure, I can do that; sounds like fun. I told him I would write about anything but medicine. He said, “That sounds fine, just write about what catches your fancy.”
So, for the last ten years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to write human-interest pieces, most of which I have written as if I were penning a letter to someone in my family, or to a friend. These short letters have given me a chance to explore a number of subjects, especially my relationship with my family. My favorite was one about my father.
One of the most moving episodes in my life happened just before my father died. One day in 1993, he was in the hospital near his home and I had gone to visit. For most of the visit he lay there in the bed with his head elevated, and he listened as I talked. Every few minutes, he would open his eyes and smile; occasionally he would respond to what I was saying with a short yes or no answer.
Then, out of the blue, he turned to me: “Do you know what I would really like?”
“Whatever you want,” I replied. I thought he was going to ask for a John Ruskin cigar. For as long as I could remember, he had favored those cheap cigars. The more expensive brands I would buy him merely decorated a humidor, forever un-smoked.
“I haven’t had a bath in days. I’m not strong enough to go to the shower; would you give me a sponge bath?”
“Sure; of course, I will.”
It took a few minutes to gather the pans, towels and soap; then we transferred him over to a chair at the bedside and I began to bathe him. This strong muscular rice farmer was now nothing more than a shell of his former self. Heart failure and loss of appetite had caused him to waste away. As I stood behind him washing his back, tears welled up in my eyes.
“Scratch right there,” he said, “that part of my back has been itching for days and I can’t reach it.”
After a couple of minutes of massaging and scratching his back, he turned back to me and smiled. “This feels great, but I am getting really tired. I need for you to help me back into the bed.”
Almost as soon as he was back in bed, it was clear he would nod off momentarily. “I don’t want to be rude,” he said, “but one way or the other I am going to sleep. Tell Annette I said, hi. And by the way, that bath really felt good.”
He died a few days later; that morning he just didn’t wake up. I am almost certain he knew what was coming and really didn’t feel the need to fight the inevitable.
Now that I am an older man, I hope I can find the same degree of acceptance of life and death as he did. I hope that when the time comes I can go out with a smile on my lips and a chuckle in my heart.
I hope to still be writing these letters in another ten years.
Have a nice journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/ writer/ marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 35 years. He recently published The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His two other books, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at Amazon.com.