My life ended up in the Sunbelt, making for good and some not-so-good memories
(Spoiler alert: You might want to read part one in this series first)
I felt like someone had covered me with a hot, wet blanket. That was my wife’s and my first impression as we exited a plane in June 1977. Having left balmy and dry San Diego, my second thought was, “What the hell have I done to my family?” Everything in Texas was foreign to us, including the climate, the people, and the culture. Although technically, in the Southwest, it didn’t feel anything like Utah, New Mexico, or Colorado. It certainly wasn’t part of the South either. My conclusion was that Texas is Texas, in a category unto itself.
With stifling heat, and mostly flat land (except for Austin and its surrounding hill country), it took a while to adapt. I would drive to my job as a cardiology fellow at the famous Texas Medical Center and park my car far away. Dressed in surgical scrubs, I needed another shower after walking into the giant Methodist Hospital and the omnipresent air conditioning.
My wife stayed home with my toddler daughter, so our income dropped in half. We had purchased a house, further stressing our budget and negatively affecting our impression of living in Texas. I moonlighted at the Houston VA Hospital to help pay the bills. Unlike San Diego, Houston had only a little to do for free.
It was nearly impossible to separate the heart program without feeling the weight of the heart surgeon who made it world-famous, Dr. Michael DeBakey. I only ran into him during my final months of training. I saw one of his private patients as he and his entourage entered the room. The most notable thing was how short he was. Rumor had it that he wore lifts in his cowboy boots.
I let him and his troops pass in front of me as he spoke to his patient, standing towards the back. When he was done, he waved a hand toward me and told the man in bed, “My associate here will continue with your work-up.” Wow. Did Dr. Debakey call me his “associate?” That meant almost on this same level. It was a memory I never forgot.
My training was great, and I even recall being asked to consult in the care of Liberace before he died. And no, I didn’t…