©Samuel Moore-Sobel and Kate Moore

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More Than Skin Deep

July 6, 2018

 

 

Reading our blog, you might come to think we spend quite a bit of time in doctor’s offices. This is actually less true than it used to be. We have a plethora of stories involving negative outcomes during our encounters with medical professionals; so, when the opposite occurs, it’s well worth sharing.

 

Practicing medicine is truly an art. Searching for a good practitioner often feels as if looking for a needle in a haystack. When you finally find someone who does it well, I have always believed it is worth some sacrifice if required to see the Doctor. More than twenty-five years ago, a dermatologist came highly recommended to me by the name of Dr. Sawchuk. I found the fact that he had made it into several issues ofWashingtonian Top Doctors rather unimportant. His knowledge and understanding of his field was what mattered.

 

Dr. Sawchuk, while completing his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, made a habit of stealing away from his work load to make use of the practice rooms, playing the piano or occasionally an organ. We forged a bond over our shared love of the “Well Tempered Klavier” by J. S. Bach, and could happily discuss the tempo or interpretation of all the Preludes and Fugues. Through moves - my home, his office, and new health coverage - my loyalty remained. Even when he did not accept my insurance. I remained his patient, for his good humor and informative healthful remedies were worth the complications my part.

It had been a while since we had last met. His hair was now all white and he possessed a few more wrinkles - none of which could hide his characteristic humor and gentle manner. 

 

The first several years after September 2009, we met a remarkable number of medical professionals who seemingly possessed a lack of knowledge about burns, burn survivors or available resources. This reality gave birth to a new mission. All people remotely connected to the medical field get to learn about the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors during our appointments.

 

Querying the good doctor if he treated many burn survivors got him thinking. He sat down as the memories crowded in. After careful contemplation, he allowed there had been only a few patients over the years who fit that description. What struck a chord more deeply was the memory of his second grade self that had recognized a certain third grader as a bully. This future medical professional instinctively knew from a young age that friendship was the antidote needed. And so Mickey Felton became his buddy. Dr. Sawchuk did not think Mickey was a bad kid, seeing him simply as just a bit energetic and rambunctious.

 

As their friendship blossomed, possible reasons for his aggressive behavior soon became more apparent. After doing something at home that was not well received, the consequence imposed by his father was to take his son’s hands and hold them over the stove’s open flame. Time spent around the burn survivor community has informed that sadly this type of story is not unusual. Senseless brutality searing the souls of those it is inflicted upon, as well as those who hear of it. 

 

Mickey came to school with hands bandaged in gauze protecting the painful results of suffering such unconscionable abuse. As they sat at lunch shortly thereafter, another group of boys came to the table to bully the young, future doctor. Mickey jumped to his feet and punched the offenders. As he sat down, Dr. Sawchuk quickly saw the results of this unabashed loyalty as red seeped through the white bandages. Such sacrifice was not lost on his friend or a future audience.

 

Mickey Felton was killed the next year on Halloween. Running across the street on a dark night in costume, he was hit by a car and killed instantly. This empathetic and kind hearted-man sharing the story thought it might have been for the best based on what could have been looming ahead. A father who was burning a third grader’s hands may have chosen even worse crimes to inflict upon a teenager. 

Tears in my eyes, Dr. Sawchuk brings me back from a reverie by asking me to repeat the name of the organization. Pulling out his prescription pad to write down Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, he crosses the room with rather misty eyed himself and reaches for my hands.

 

“Thank you for what you are doing. We doctors would not know of these resources if people like you did not share the information,” he said. With that, he was out the door, off to bring healing and hope to another patient. 

 

The doctor’s story illuminated the need to share. More than 40,000 patients a year are hospitalized for burn related injuries in the United States. There are likely countless other instances that go unreported. Burns suffered as a result of abuse, or an accident, or any number of circumstances. The numbers are high enough to guarantee that we all possibly know a burn survivor. Making the need to spread the word about the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors all the more pressing. For healing cannot be achieved in a vacuum.

 

My hope is that Mickey Felton did not die in vain. This cautionary tale needs to be heard the world over, resulting in a movement towards taking action. Steps taken to avoid condoning and ignoring abuse. Get help if you feel you might do that. Report abuse if you see it. The power of one person who stops being a bystander is incalculable. For a human life is far too valuable to be left behind in the dark alleys of injustice.

 

 

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