Growing up a young boy on a hobby farm, you find ways to entertain yourself. My mother made it very clear to me she was not responsible to entertain me. I tell the parents who take the Love and Logic class that without realizing it, my mother was teaching me to be responsible, resourceful, and creative.
A Young Surgeon in the Making
Because my father died of a massive heart attack, I found myself, at a very young age, being interested in medicine in general and the human heart in particular. My sister, ten years older than I, had a stuffed monkey which was the equivalent of a “blankie” for her. One of my brothers, twelve years older than I, had a room in our basement with his own bathroom. It had the old fashioned heat lamp. Do you remember the combination heat lamp and exhaust fan? Ours was infrared. You could twist the button, the timer would begin and the bright heat light would come on.
I would use the clothes hamper for my surgical table and begin surgery on my sister’s stuffed monkey. My brother’s razor removed the monkey’s hair. Next, a pair of scissors cut the monkey open so I could remove the stuffing. I didn’t know how to sew the monkey back up but I would put plenty of methiolate on the “wound site” so it would heal. Needless to say, my sister did not appreciate my attempt at “playing” doctor.
I rapidly reached a point where there wasn’t anything to operate on. The stuffed animals could not be found anywhere! J My interest in medicine did not wane but my ability to express it did!
A Young Basketball Star in the Making
Fast forward just a couple of years. I found myself playing a lot of basketball on the community basketball court (we only had one with the tennis net down the middle) because I wanted to try out for basketball since I was about to enter the seventh grade. Believe it or not, I would practice two to four hours a day. Fortunately, I attended a small junior high and I made the team. I loved playing basketball and became fiercely competitive. My eighth grade year, I took basketball so seriously I could not stand to lose. Whenever I heard somebody say, “It’s just a game, losing is no big deal!” I would inwardly disagree vehemently and make sure I played the game as if winning was the only thing that mattered.
One Saturday, we were playing Sacred Heart Catholic School which was 30 miles away. They were always really good, and beating them was my primary goal. The coach did not play to win but he played to learn the basics of basketball and especially how to be a good teammate, etc. Therefore, he would put people into the game at the least appropriate times. My teenage mind did not understand why he would play everyone an equal amount of time which resulted in losing almost every game. I could not stand to lose, especially to Sacred Heart. We were losing on that Saturday morning, I was playing my heart out, and the coach puts in Kevin, who did not want to play basketball but his parents made him. The game resumes and as I am running by our coach and our bench, I yell, “Kevin does not know the plays!”
Winning Isn’t Everything
I distinctly remember that day as if it were yesterday. When I crossed the half court line, something clicked. My adolescent mind recognized that my competitive spirit was unhealthy and unbecoming. I don’t know that I would have used those words to describe what I was thinking and feeling. But I knew, deep down, I was too competitive and it was hurtful to people like Kevin. When that season ended, I never played competitive basketball again. My two to three hours on the community court came to a screeching halt.
Studying at The University of Moscow
My curiosity toward medicine was not a fading fascination. In fact, it continued to grow. The summer of my transition to high school, I decided I needed to find a way to blend my fascination with medicine, my love of athletics, and my need to entertain myself. Remember, this was in 1976, way before computers and Google. So I did some research and discovered that the Cremer sports medicine supply company was beginning a student trainer program at the University of Moscow in Idaho. I immediately enrolled and was accepted. I spent two weeks there, in the athletic training facility, with a whole bunch of strangers, one of whom was my roommate in a dorm room. It was, needless to say, an “out of the box” experience for this shy guy from this little town in Montana.
In the course of two weeks, I learned the basics of first aid; I knew how to tape ankles, wrists, thumbs, and shoulders. I learned about rehab from basic injuries like bruises, sprained ankles, etc. It started us on the path of learning anatomy and physiology. It was an incredible experience and I thought I had died and had gone to heaven!
Hitting My Stride in High School
My four years of high school, I never played competitive basketball or football or track. But I was the student athletic trainer for every sport, guys and girls. I attended every game, at home or away, and went to every tournament. We would ride in a yellow school bus 175 miles one way to play a game and not think anything of it. Getting home at 2 or 3 on a Sunday morning was not unusual and was part of this idealistic life. My interest in the heart was ever present in my mind even though I was constantly studying sports medicine. In rural Montana, this was especially important because when somebody broke their leg, I could put on a splint until they got to the specialist 250 miles away. Obviously, my training as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) in addition was helpful when medical resources were scarce.
The Wisdom from Wibaux: Never Too Young
The Wisdom from Wibaux? Nobody ever said to me, “Jeff, you are too young to go to the University of Moscow.” Nobody ever tried to squelch my desire to integrate my love for medicine and athletics. When I asked the high school principal for a training room where I could tape ankles, and provide hydrocalator treatments (hot pads), and all that goes into athletic training, the administration supported me and provided the space.
I will continue the story next week but I leave you with a Scripture my hometown practiced without exception. “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young.” I Timothy 4:12.
I encourage you to think about the younger ones among us or among you, just waiting for someone to encourage them to pursue their dreams, no matter their age.
–Rev. Jeff Gannon