By Dr. Jim Ferguson

As the year closes, I find myself considering an end to my weekly column in The Knoxville Focus. Aging doctors, and columnists, need to know when it’s time to go.

As best we understand, humans are the only time-conscious creatures on earth. Perhaps an exception is my dog Jack, who knows when it’s 5 o’clock and suppertime – he did have trouble adjusting to daylight saving time. Humans exist primarily in the present moment, though we consider our past and the future. And at year’s end we understandably ponder conclusions, beginnings (another year) and resolutions.

I’ve been writing this weekly column for ten years, and this week’s essay is my 500th. On average, my essays are a bit more than 1000 words, so I’ve penned over a half million words in the Focus. Have I said enough? Perhaps; everything has an end. I used to write for the Knoxville Sentinel, and that ended. I’m sure the Sentinel doesn’t miss my conservative perspectives.

I never imagined myself a writer until recent years; some might dismiss this designation all together. As a younger person I never wrote anything other than school assignments. My educational background was science focused, rather than one of letters, although my liberal arts curriculum afforded me a smattering of the humanities. Only after my formal medical education did I continue my studies in non-science based areas.

It was in 2001 that my life took another direction. A friend advised me to begin spiritual journaling. I resisted, but he challenged me to give it a try, and it led me to discover writing. Similarly, as a medical student I was the proverbial prodigal in a far country. My life was adrift. However, a challenge by another friend led to a commitment of faith and my spiritual journey homeward began. Listen to your friends who sometimes know you better than yourself.

I will always be a doctor because my profession and vocation are inseparably intertwined in my life. But now I have an avocation as a writer. If you add my spiritual journal entries to my essays in the Tennessee Medical Journal as well as two published books to my Focus essays, I suspect I’ve penned a million words.

I’ve learned a lot from writing, and I’ve applied my discoveries. I found that patients benefit by organizing their thoughts and emotions by writing them down. It is helpful in conflict resolution to read or verbalize those feelings. I’ve learned to better distill medical concepts into layman’s terms as I write this column. This same technique is helpful counseling patients. And I’ve found it true that patients will tell you what’s wrong with them if you’ll listen. The teacher often learns more than the student. Lastly, I’ve learned to listen to the Spirit who has at times interceded in my mind, heart and soul “with groans too deep for words” as I’ve penned my thoughts and prayers in my spiritual journal. This has led me to insights I had previously never imagined.

As I compose this essay at year’s end, I have thought a lot about my purpose. Writing gives me joy, but that’s not enough to continue. I could start a blog and sell advertising if I were driven by money. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed and I don’t have to write as an assignment or to earn a living. Writers want their words read. But even if Random House discovered my prose, I wouldn’t go on a promotional book tour. I am content to be a small fish in our neighborhood pond.

So why continue The Doctor Is In? I’ll continue to be a doctor, even if it’s just for family members, because its inculcated into the fabric of my being. I’ll continue to advise my patients and continue to satisfy my curiosity with the Net because I have what the ancient Greeks described as gnosis, the desire to learn for the shear joy of knowing. However, there is a more important factor in my decision regarding The Focus.

Years ago I read that fish continue to grow larger as long as they live. As a result, a larger fish is an older fish. When I was young my Dad and I were ardent trout fishermen. I learned that a fish had to be a certain size or it wasn’t a “keeper,” and had to be released to grow large enough to someday be put into my creel. The fish analogy applies to me. To date, I have been “measured” by The Master and apparently I still have some growing to do before I’m added to the celestial harvest. And until that time I am required to use my talents to seek and speak the truth in love, to serve and to proclaim the Kingdom.

So, after much soul searching, I’ve decided to continue this column. I have decided I still have something to say. Some have complained that I write about topics other than medicine. It’s true that my columns touch on history, science, medicine, politics, philosophy, spirituality and even travel, art and music appreciation. I write about what interests me, what I’ve researched and what I’ve observed. Some opine that I’m not an expert in some of my topics. But then you’d need to define an expert. One definition is someone fifty miles from home with a powerpoint presentation.

I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on woodworking or interior design, and would never deign to write on such topics or those where I have little interest and therefore little expertise. My writing is not by assignment of an editor, where I would predictably do a poor job. And, I assure you that if I wrote on medical topics alone it would be boring.

It will be a new year by the time you read this column. My fans can look forward to more of the same and perhaps additional genres. My critics can just use my column for wrapping fish or starting a fire. As long as Mr. Hunley gives me a voice, critics will not be able to limit my observations or my teaching of those who will listen. I’ll continue offering prayers for the lost and confused, and my readers can count on additional surprises and perhaps a third book.