Brian Goes To College
by Nick Brady
Copyright © 2015-2016 by Nick Brady, all rights reserved.
It was nearing the end of Brian's senior year in high school and there was a lot of activity going on. He was to attend the Senior Tea which was something of a mystery to him. Apparently it was intended to instill some social graces into those who might not have them. The senior class at Edison was too large to meet in any one home so there were several sessions. Brian's met in the home of one of the English teachers. They were to wear suits and be prepared to be on their best behavior. Apparently this was a new experience for some of them.
Brian sat in a straight backed chair wearing his Sunday best. Marty had helped him with his necktie and he looked very proper. He drank a cup of tea, balanced a small plate of cookies on his knee and tried to make polite conversation with two senior girls and one of the faculty members. He decided it wasn't really a big deal, not unlike the refreshments after church at St. Jerome's although a bit more formal. Brian was a handsome boy and in his suit and tie he looked very nice. It became apparent to him that he was receiving more than polite attention from one of the girls, a striking redhead named Linda. He had seen her at school but this was the first time he had spoken with her.
"So what are your plans after high school," she asked.
"I'm enrolled in pre-med through the Classics program at OU Tulsa," he told her truthfully, "and if I complete that successfully I intend to go to medical school to be a physician."
Her eyes widened a little, "Oh really. So you plan to be a doctor?"
"Yes, that's the plan anyway," he smiled.
"Where will you go for medical school?" she leaned forward in her chair a little.
"I haven't decided that yet. I think I will figure that out when it looks like I can make it through pre-med."
"Isn't that a lot of work?" She asked.
"I imagine it will be challenging," Brian admitted modestly.
Linda appeared mildly interested. "So what are you doing now? I mean do you work or something?"
Brian laughed, "I'm a bicycle mechanic at City Cycles, that's a bicycle shop."
"Oh really? That's nice." She leaned back a little.
"Well, I guess I like to fix things, bicycles, people, you know."
Linda laughed. "That's funny."
"Is it?" Brian was not sure how to take that.
"I've seen you in the halls at school, but I don't think I've met you before. Are you in any clubs?"
"Well I swim," Brian said simply.
"Oh, are you on the swim team?"
"Just intermurals at the high school. I don't have a lot of time really. I work after school and on weekends and I'm active in Scouting." Brian explained.
"Like Boy Scouts?"
"Yes, I'm an Eagle Scout actually."
"Oh. I was in Brownies," Linda told him. She appeared to be losing interest.
"That's great. Did you go on any farther than Brownies?" Brian was trying to keep up his end of the conversation.
"No, that was it."
"I see. Uh, what are your plans after high school?"
"I haven't decided," Linda sniffed. "I may go into dress design, fashion, you know."
The other girl leaned in and introduced herself. "I'm Louisa Carpenter," She said. "My father is a doctor."
"Oh really? What sort of practice?" Brian asked.
"He's a Pediatric Oncologist," Louisa had a nice smile.
"That sounds very interesting, Working with kids like that must be very gratifying."
"Yes, I think it is. He enjoys it, although I think it's kind of hard on him sometimes."
"Well, the survival rate is not that great. It really bothers him when he loses somebody."
"Right, I can see that. I bet it's hard not to get involved with some of his patients," Brian's face showed concern.
"Exactly," Louisa nodded. "Professional detachment is not always that easy."
Lind had lost interest in the conversation and got up for more cookies. The faculty member joined her.
"So how did he decide to go into that field?" Brian asked, scooting his chair a little closer.
"Well, I think he always thought he would like pediatrics, then he had a patient that got cancer and became interested in that so he went back for some additional training. I don't really know how all that worked out, but If you're interested and would like to talk to him I could introduce you," Louisa smiled. "I think he would talk to you and try to answer your questions."
"Oh yes, I would like that. Are you sure it would be OK? I know he must be very busy."
Louisa smiled again, "He's an Eagle Scout."
"Oh really? Well, if he has time I would like that very much. Can I give you my phone number? Just let me know when it's convenient. I would really like to talk with him, if he has the time that is."
"I bet he will. I'll pass your number to him." Louisa really had a lovely smile.
The Tea drug on for a little while more than it was time to leave. Brian thanked his hostess politely and was told that he had lovely manners. Brian decided that she probably did not say that to everyone and was pleased.
He went from there to the house, changed clothes quickly and showed up at the bike shop for work.
"Hey Superman, how's it going?" Noah greeted him.
"Just another day in paradise," Brian smiled.
"So how's the senior swirl?"
Brian laughed, "I attended the Senior Tea this afternoon."
"God, that sounds boring. How did you survive?"
"It wasn't that bad really. I met a nice girl who told me her father was a doctor and might be willing to talk to me."
"You need a doctor?"
"Well no, like for some professional advice maybe. He is a Pediatric Oncologist."
Noah looked blank. "What's that?"
"He would work with kids who have cancer."
"Damn, that sounds grim. Is that what you want to do?"
"Well, that's the thing. I know I want to be a doctor and think I would like to work with families. Kids are cool, maybe a Pediatrician, I don't really know. There are lots of options."
Noah nodded and looked impressed. "I guess. I think you could do anything you wanted."
"Well, somewhere along the line I have to figure out what I want." Changing the subject he asked Noah, "How are you doing? I didn't mean to upset you the other evening."
"Noah shook his head. "You didn't upset me, you just gave me a lot to think about."
"So what are you thinking about?"
"Damn, you never let up do you," Noah chuckled. "If you really want to know I've been thinking about talking to the guidance counselor at TCC."
"Really?" Brian was delighted. "That's great!"
"Now don't get all excited. I'm just thinking about it. I'm kind of used to being a slug. This might not work out."
"Well I hope you do it Noah. You can do a lot more than you think you can. I really mean that."
"Hey, cut it out. I'm not going to get your shirt wet again. Now let's get busy, we got in some new bikes today."
Brian got home just as Marco was putting supper on the table. "How was the tea?"
"Oh lovely, just lovely old boy," Brian pressed his fingers together as if holding a tea cup and extended his pinky finger.
"Great!" Marco laughed. "Did you save room for some supper?"
"Oh yes! Three little cookies just didn't get the job done."
Sam and Ben were taking all this in. "What's a tea?" Ben asked.
"Well, you get dressed up and sit around drinking tea and eating little cookies," Brian explained.
"The cookies sound OK. But the rest sounds pretty boring," Sam observed. "Why do they make you do that?"
"I don't know, it is part of the tradition I guess. I think it's supposed to teach you how to act civilized. Actually I met someone interesting."
"Who was that?" Marty asked.
"A senior girl who told me her father is a physician and might get him to talk to me. I could really use some good advice from someone in the profession."
"Who is the girl? Who is her father?" Marco asked with interest.
"Her name is Louisa Carpenter and her father is a Pediatric Oncologist."
"Was she cute?" Sam asked.
"She was actually, but I was mostly interested in talking to her father," Brian explained.
"What's a pediatric onclo-gi-whats-it?" Ben looked lost.
"Oncologist. That's a doctor who treats kids with cancer," Brian explained.
The twins nodded in unison.
A week went by and Brian got a phone call at dinner time. "Hello?"
"Hi, this is Ethan Carpenter. I'm the doctor my daughter Louisa told you about. I understand you are looking at the medical profession."
"Oh yes. Thank you for calling. I could use some advice."
"Well, that's what she said. Do you suppose you could come by my house for a chat?"
"Certainly sir, anytime it's convenient for you."
"How about this Saturday afternoon at two? I'm normally home from the office by that time and we could talk for a little while."
"That's very kind of you sir. Can you give me the address?"
"I'm at 6161 South Bedford Avenue. I'll be looking forward to meeting you."
"Thank you very much, I appreciate this.'
"Not a problem Brian. See you then."
Brian turned to the family, "Wow, that was Dr. Carpenter. He wants me to come to his house for a chat. I can't believe it."
That was pretty quick. When is this?" Marco asked.
"Saturday afternoon at 2:00. I'll have to take off work a little early so I can shower and change."
Marty smiled, "You want to look respectable."
"You must have made a good impression on his daughter," Marco added.
Brian looked very happy. "I guess. I really feel good about this. Like it's a good sign or something."
Brian hummed his way through the rest of the week until Saturday came around. He told Noah about his conference and got away at noon to get ready. He flew into the house to shower and dress.
"What should I wear?" he asked Marco?
"I don't know, ask Marty, he's the executive."
"I would suggest your tan slacks and a nice sweater with a collar underneath – something collegiate."
"Right, like I was ready to go to med school."
"Just relax and be yourself," Marty advised him. "You are a sharp kid and you look fine. Try not to be too nervous. I would suggest that you sit down for a minute or two and think about what kinds of questions you want to ask. That's why he invited you."
"Right, I need to focus on this," Brian sat on the sofa to think.
Sam and Ben sat down next to him. "This is kind of like your Scoutmaster review, maybe. You did good on that," Sam suggested.
Brian laughed, "I guess you're right. I don't want to look too scared, do I?"
Ben put his arm around Brian's shoulder, "Hey, you are the smartest coolest guy I know. Just be Brian and you'll be OK."
Brian hugged both boys and smiled, "With a cheering section like you I guess I can't go wrong. Thanks guys. Now give me a minute, OK?"
Sam and Ben went into the back yard to toss a ball around and left Brian to have a few minutes of quiet time. After several minutes he looked at his watch and left the house to find the doctor's home.
He pulled up at the address Dr. Carpenter had given him and sat in the car until it was straight up two o'clock then walked up to the front door. It was a large two-story brick house with a long driveway at the side that went back to a double garage. The yard was nicely landscaped with tall trees and looked very nice. He pushed the doorbell and waited.
After a minute the door opened and he was greeted by a lean gray haired gentleman with a pleasant smile. He recognized the smile.
"Well, you must be Brian Montgomery. Please come in."
Dr. Carpenter led him in through the foyer to a sunlit room with glass doors down the outside wall. It was a nicely furnished room but not pretentious. There were framed photographs of family members sitting on a long sideboard, many of a young girl who Brian took to be Louisa. Dr. Carpenter sat on one of a pair of wingback chairs opposite the sofa. Louisa was sitting on the sofa next to an attractive woman. They were both dressed in white shirts and shorts and a pair of tennis racquets were propped up between them. On the coffee table was a tray with four tall glasses of something cold.
The woman smiled and offered her hand which Brian shook. "Hello Brian, I'm Cathy Carpenter and I think you know our daughter Louisa. It's nice to meet you."
Brian returned the smile. "Hello Louisa. It's very nice to meet you Mrs. Carpenter. It is very kind of you to invite me over."
Please help yourself to a glass of lemonade and make yourself comfortable," she motioned to the chair next to the doctor. Louisa and I have been playing a little tennis and came in to cool off. We may play again but wanted to meet you before we left. Do you play?"
Brian shrugged modestly, "Oh no, not really. I've batted a ball around a few times but I couldn't honestly say that I knew how to play."
"You should learn to play properly. Tennis is a wonderful game and one that can be played at any age," she laughed, "recreationally at least."
Dr. Carpenter chuckled, "as can golf."
"We make Ethan play tennis with us whenever we can lure him away from the golf course," his wife teased. "Please sit down."
Brian took a glass of lemonade and sat.
"Louisa tells you are an Eagle Scout," the doctor recalled.
"Yes, and she tells me that you are also."
"He smiled and nodded, "Yes I am. I had a wonderful time in scouts – Philmont, the Boundary Waters, and great summers at Tom Hale. Do they still use Hale?"
"Yes sir. We were there last summer. It's a great old camp."
"Well, congratulations on your Eagle. You know it's not correct to look back and say that we were Eagle Scouts. We are Eagle Scouts. That will follow you all through your life."
"Yes sir." Brian was not great at making small talk.
Louisa and her mother stood to leave. "I think we are rested enough. We plan to play another set of tennis before we shower. It was very nice to meet you Brian. I hope we see you again."
Brian stood quickly, "It was very nice to meet you too Mrs. Carpenter. And thank you for the lemonade."
"You are very welcome, and please call me Cathy. We're not all that formal here."
Louisa smiled and spoke for the first time. "Nice to see you again Brian. You will have to come over and let us teach you how to play tennis some time."
"I would like that," Brian smiled in return.
The ladies left and the doctor motioned for Brian to sit again. "Louisa tells me that you have plans for medical school."
"Yes sir, I do. I know it's a long haul though."
"Yes it's a very long haul. There is pre-med, then medical school, then your residency – more than that if you specialize. Where would you like to end up?"
"Well sir, that's the thing. I'm really not sure. There are so many things that I should look at. I don't feel called to do research or something like that. I would like to work with people - maybe a family practice of some sort. Louisa tells me that you're a Pediatrician."
"Yes. I think I always knew I wanted to work with kids – a long tenure in scouting confirmed that for me. Then later I decided to specialize in Pediatric ouisa. It was a good choice for me I think."
Brian nodded. "I can see Pediatrics although I don't know about working with cancer patients. I imagine that might be difficult in some ways."
The doctor made a little face, "It can be. The mortality rate for kids with cancer is improving a great deal, but we still lose about thirty percent, depending on the type of cancer of course."
"If you don't mind my asking Dr. Carpenter, how did you come to choose that as a specialty?"
The doctor smiled, "I don't mind your asking at all, but I wish you would call me Ethan. As my wife said, we are not that formal here. Maybe at the office, but here at the house I'm just Ethan."
Brian felt more at ease. "Sorry, I guess I'm just trying to be on my best behavior. I would be very interested in knowing how you chose your field."
"Yes of course. It's not a complicated story really. When I was a fairly new pediatrician I was working with a twelve year old boy who had complained of what he thought was a pulled muscle in his calf that was slow to heal. His name was Steven, he played soccer and thought he had injured himself. I did the usual thing but he seemed to get worse rather than better.
"So I did some more complete testing, an MRI and CT scan, and found something that didn't look right. I referred him to an oncologist and he was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of deep tissue cancer. Several things were tried, radiation and some oral drugs but his condition worsened quickly leading to an amputation just below the knee. I hoped that this would halt the spread of the disease but it metastasized to the thigh with the result that he had another amputation of the upper leg. The family was just devastated.
"He was a really nice kid, Brian. Steven was very courageous and did everything he was asked to, but nothing would stop the progress of his cancer. By this time he had left my care and was being treated by some very capable physicians, but I tried to keep abreast of his situation. In desperation he went through some vicious chemotherapy. I was in the hospital one night and learned that he was about to go thought another treatment so I dropped down to oncology see about him. When I got there he was lying unconscious on a gurney under a sheet which covered him to his waist.
"He was bald as an egg, rail thin, and deathly white but still a beautiful boy. I would never had recognized him as the active healthy kid I had become quite fond of. He was a fighter Brian, and here he was, totally defeated by this awful disease. I'm sorry to say that he died only a few days after I saw him and it just bothered the hell out of me. I decided that if I couldn't help him, I wanted to help others like him and decided to specialize in the cancer treatment of children.
"Now before I turn you away from your inclination towards medicine I want to tell you that this was 20 years ago, and the sophistication of treatment and odds of survival have improved dramatically since that time. It is not the death sentence that it once was. I have never regretted my decision, although I still lose a few."
Brian listened to Ethan's story and felt his throat tighten. He sat quietly for a moment then cleared his throat, "That's a very powerful testimony."
Ethan smiled and gestured with his hands, "There are easier things to do. A family practice lets you see patients of all ages and focus on prevention and treatment of common diseases and conditions. You treat bumps and scrapes, set the occasional broken limb and prescribe for colds and flu. Anything more serious and you refer to a specialist. If you wish to do pediatrics, you focus on much the same sort of medicine but limit your practice to patients under the age of eighteen. That's what I thought I wanted to do, but Steven changed my mind."
Brian sat quietly and tried to digest what he had been told. He took a deep breath and looked at Ethan, "I think Steven was not the only one who was a fighter. It's hard to know what to say."
"Have I discouraged you from medical school? "Ethan asked.
"Brian hesitated. "No sir – Ethan. If anything you have helped me see the passion you have for medicine and makes me realize what a high calling it really is. I think if anything, you have convinced me that this is what I want to do. I don't know about oncology, maybe when I have more understanding of what my possibilities will be, but I can surely see a focus on pediatrics.
"Maybe you're right about a background in Scouting. I do like working with the younger scouts. I live with a pair of fourteen year old twins that I have helped advance from Webelos to Star Scouts, and we've had a lot of fun working on those things," Brian smiled as he recalled Sam and Ben's encouragement as he prepared for this meeting. "They have helped me a lot too."
Ethan chuckled, "Yes, my young patients often prop me up." He paused and looked at Brian. "Now what questions might you have for me? What sort of plans have you made for your schooling?"
"Yes, well I have a lot of questions actually. I am not really sure how to go about this. My tentative plan is to do my pre-med through the Classics program at OU Tulsa. I don't know what I will do after that. I can't see that far ahead."
"The Classics program? Not a science centered program?"
"Well my thinking is that a lot of history, humanities and literature will help me understand people better. I have to admit that my education up to now has been rather limited. Without going into my own background, it's only in the last four or five years that I have been in a – well, a good situation. I think I would benefit from a better education in the humanities. Am I on the wrong track? Actually this is my biggest question right now."
Ethan smiled, "No, I think that's a good idea. The pre-med electives you will take as part of that program will expose you to plenty of biology, physiology, math and hard science. May I ask how your high school grades have turned out?"
"I have carried a straight A average for the last three years of high school. I will graduate with honors."
"That's very good Brian. That and an Eagle Scout are good recommendations for almost anything. I think your plans for pre-med are sound. That should work out very well for you."
Brian leaned forward, "What about medical school? Should I already be looking at where to do that?"
"Ethan shook his head. "Not really. You will have time to decide that as you get closer to completing your pre-med. You may well change you mind about what sort of practice you want to have several times by then."
"But you knew you wanted to go into Pediatrics, so where did you go to medical school?"
"Baylor, I went to Baylor. They have one of the top 10 schools for Pediatrics in the country, unless you are interested in studying overseas."
"No, my home situation is very good right now. I actually would prefer to stay in Tulsa or as close as possible. That's probably the main reason I decided on OU Tulsa. Probably I should know, but where is Baylor?"
"Baylor is down in Houston. Other than Kansas City, that's probably the closest good medical from here. I chose Baylor because it was the best for Pediatrics."
Brian felt encouraged. "Houston is only a day's drive from here. That sounds pretty good."
Ethan nodded slowly. It was clear to him that Brian had more of a story than he was ready to share, but did not feel inclined to pry. "Actually Brian, I think you are right on track, although I do feel that I should ask about your financial situation. The path to being a medical doctor is quite expensive and frankly, Pediatrics is not one of the better paying areas for practice. Kids, or more accurately, families with kids don't always have a lot of money."
Brian smiled, "To be honest I think I'm really lucky. My parents, or the couple who I look to as my parents, are both able and willing to support me in this. I am very pleased to say that as long as I hold up my end of this bargain, my expenses will be largely covered. As for the potential income, well I'm not looking to get rich."
"Ethan smiled again, "Well then you are indeed fortunate. And must say I like your attitude." He looked around the room and waved his hand. "As you can see, we have a nice home and are quite comfortable, but I am not a person of great wealth, nor do I want to be. My family is secure and we have a good life. I find that sufficient. The expense of medical school has been a good investment and I do find the work very rewarding. For me, it's a way to help make the world a little better place. I like what I do."
Brian sat back and finished his lemonade. "Well sir, I imagine I've taken up enough of your time. I really appreciate your talking with me. This has been very helpful."
He paused, then asked one final question. "I don't know of anyone in my family who has ever gone past high school. I'm aware that I've set a difficult goal for myself. I'm sure that not everyone who starts out to be a doctor makes it. What are my chances of success?"
Ethan chuckled, "Well now, I'm not a prophet Brian. I don't know what the dropout rate is for aspiring physicians but I would imagine it's significant. I do know that a number of people who start out to be doctors decide that may not be the best option for them and simply go into a different medical field, pharmacy, or nursing for example."
Ethan smiled warmly at Brian, "But if I were to venture a guess, I would say that your chances of success are quite good. I only know what you have shown me today, but I see a young man who is bright and has a strong sense of purpose. It would appear that you have had to struggle with some things and have dealt with them. The path you have chosen will be very challenging. It requires a good mind and the willingness to work very hard. But more than that, it requires a certain amount of toughness and determination. I think you have those qualities Brian, and I wish you well."
Encouraged by Ethan's remarks, Brian stood to leave, "I can't tell you how much I appreciate everything you've told me today. Thank you very much."
Ethan stood, stepped over to Brian and shook his hand. "Thank you for coming. It has been a pleasure meeting you. I'm interested in how this works out for you. If you like, use me as a reference and if you have any other questions or concerns let me know. Here is my cell number. If you need to talk with me, it works out best if you will text me and let me get back to you. Good luck."
"Thank you sir. I will do that. Please say goodbye to your wife and daughter for me."
"Tell them yourself," Ethan smiled and pointed to the glass door, "They are out on the patio."
Brian stepped outside and found them sitting in the shade of a arbor which stood over a stone terrace. A private tennis court was just beyond. "I need to go but wanted to thank you for the lemonade."
"It was a pleasure to meet you," Cathy told him. "Please come again anytime. You will be quite welcome. You might want a tennis lesson, and we could use a fourth for doubles."
Brian stepped closer and shook her hand then looked at Louisa, "Nice to see you again too."
"Nice to see you Brian," She gave him a beautiful smile. "Don't be a stranger."
Back at home, Brian parked in the driveway and let himself in the house.
"Hey there he is," Marco greeted him. "How did it go?"
"It was great. They are really nice people, and Dr. Carpenter gave me a lot of information. I think I'm on the right track. And I may even get a tennis lesson out of the deal."
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