Tom Smith: ordinary name, extra ordinary man #165

At the beginning of a Columbus Day work weekend, I saw an unfamiliar face at the other end of the dining hall.  I knew he had never been to DL for a work weekend before, because of his face.  He looked like he had lived through a stroke. On the left side of his face, his eye did not look normal, his cheek sagged, and his upper lip hung down over his teeth.  I remember wondering who he was, what his limitations were, and how he related to DL.

Tom was assigned to work with me in the maintenance building.  The job is to show workers where to get what they need – and to get un-needed supplies back to where they belong.  The inventory is huge!  The hardware store is 15 minutes away, their prices high.  Many contributions/purchases are in bulk: 50# boxes of sheet rock and deck screws…1”, 1 ½,” 2” – up to 4”.  Nails, spikes and lag screws up to 12”.  There are hinges, hooks, bolts, washers, copper and plastic pipe/fittings, gas lamps, a variety of lubricants and adhesives.  And there are hammers, tape measures, 3/8 portable drills, levels, generators and extension cords.

Most workers put the 3” deck screws they did not use back in the 3” deck screw bin. But a real mess occurs when un-needed supplies are mixed with other un-needed supplies…and soon there may be 1”, 1 ½ “ screws, a few 10 penny nails, a variety of lag bolts and a hinge in one bucket.  It is very tempting to dump and run!

As we walked toward the building, I learned Tom was the father of 2 DL campers, and his family lived near Albany. Tom’s walking and speech seemed normal.  After taking a few minutes to orientate him to where things were in the shop, I handed him a bucket and showed him where he could sort the mess.   Tom went to work.  I checked with Tom.   Few words…incredible focus!  When able, I worked on my own bucket.  Soon Tom was showing others where to find supplies and tools.   At the end of the work weekend, we had worked through 18 buckets/containers of mixed mess…and saved hundreds of dollars!   We had also told everyone….put your stuff back in the right place!!!!

Eventually I learned Tom Smith is a doctor in the Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, continues to work, as needed, in the Emergency Room and teaches in the Albany Medical College.

His story:  Tom was 45 years of age, and returning to Albany from providing medical care in a New York State prison.  He could feel something strange happening to his face.  The diagnosis: Bell’s palsy – the nerves on the left side of his face would not function.  Recovery time: normally 1-2 weeks.

In the meantime, he could not blink his left eye and his vision was blurred. He needed to wear an eye patch.  Sometimes he drooled.  Eating could be messy.  Clear speech was not easy.   Sometimes Tom bit his upper lip so hard that his teeth cut deeply into the skin – blood.  Yes, many thought Tom had had a stroke.  Tom’s boss pointed out that patients did not want to see their doctor looking as he did, so, until back to normal, he should stay home.  Electrical shock stimulation of the facial nerves was tried – the only result was incredible pain.

After staying home just four days, Tom asked if he could work in the emergency room.  Patients in the ER are thankful to see any doctor!  Permission was granted, and Tom focused on injured and dying patients, particularly those who struggled to breathe.   Eventually Tom stopped drooling and was able to remove the eye patch, but he knows his face still looks like he has had a stroke.  The emotions Tom feels seldom show on his face.  This is hard.  It has been 12 years.

Tom works In Partnership With God.

Tom Smith, MD, serves his Master in the ICU and ER, where the line between life and death is thin.  Many need the warmth of Tom’s touch, the warmth of his heart.   Skill….and empathy.

Tom Smith, MD, serves his Master at Deerfoot Lodge.  He cleans the shop on Friday night to be ready for Saturday morning.  He is happy to hand out tools, sort screws, or build bunk beds.  I missed a work weekend.  Tom was ready.

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