You never know how church can surprise you. Our church, for example, has a tradition of arranging small dinner groups for parishioners to meet informally and socialize. Usually, these are called “foyer groups,” and in them, we get to meet, chat and eat. When I’m involved, inevitably the talk rolls around to motorcycling, which isn’t usually all that popular with my tablemates. But last weekend, I was very surprised when the young man seated next to me—I’ll call him Martin—told me that, though he doesn’t ride himself, nor does his wife, he chooses his doctors based on whether or not they ride motorcycles.
Insert raised-eyebrow expression here.
Turns out, Martin road-tests his doctors, interviewing them rather than the other way around, to see if they’re the kinds of people he wants looking after his family’s health. The idea came to him, he says, in college. After he’d gotten “the last of all those degrees,” as he puts it (Martin is one of those guys who, well, runs things), he decided that he’d had it with those arrogant physicians who barely look at you when they finally get around to seeing you. Because he’s lucky enough to have a very good health plan, he can be choosy, so he used the motorcycle question to settle the matter of whether he should even continue to interview a prospective doc.
Being unable to pursue this sorting process myself, I was intrigued as to how successful it was for Martin. Even though he’s only just moved with his family from points far east of California, he says emphatically that it works every time. So far, wherever he’s lived, he’s always found a physician who rides, and who has been terrific for his family.
Thinking about docs I’ve known who ride, a couple came quickly to mind: Dr. David Duffy, a fellow member of the Over the Hill Gang and world-renowned dermatologist in Torrance, California, and my longtime riding partner, Dr. Shreve “Mac” Archer, of Pebble Beach, who would seize any excuse to call me up when I lived in Pacific Grove and head down the wonderful twisties of the Pacific Coast Highway at dawn, when nobody else was out on the roads. Mac was a pediatrician, champion motorcycle and car racer, an inventor of important car and motorcycle safety devices and also of a better military pilot’s helmet. He died in 2007, only 58 years old, of complications from the treatment of his leukemia. David and Mac seem to me to exemplify the zest for life that characterizes motorcycling, and also the dedicated physician’s concern for life that is the core of any doctor who is in it for more than the money.
Despite the legions of medical people who say they despise motorcycling—and we’ve all encountered them, all too often in emergency rooms—there are a lot more riding and racing docs out there than most of us know, as my dining companion’s seemingly infallible test for finding the right physician makes clear. Just to get a hint of how many there might actually be, have a look at the Motorcycling Doctors Association and the Quick Quacks Motorcycle Club in Britain. Granted, those outfits aren’t exactly up there in membership numbers with the Harley Owners Group, but it figures that most docs who ride might not want to make a big deal out of it at work, where coming out of the closet as a rider presumably isn’t exactly career-enhancing, despite the TV series “House.” Though Dr. Gregory House rides a 2005 Honda CBR1000RR Repsol Replica to work and everywhere else wearing his Vanson Model B leather jacket, he hasn’t exactly got the ideal bedside manner.
Which, come to think of it, is yet another recommendation for using my dining companion’s technique for finding the best docs. Because, based on far too much recent experience of it, I suspect that too much sugar-sweetness in a bedside manner belies not so much true concern for a patient’s state of mind as success in faking sincerity—and as humorists like Groucho Marx and George Burns reminded us, “If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.”