By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I once wrote an essay about the modern scourge of AIDS and compared it to the ancient disease we now know as leprosy.

Tremendous progress has been made with both diseases, and with modern medicine there is now the prospect of curing HIV infection, just as antibiotics are used to rid patients of the infectious microorganism causing leprosy.

At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, I diagnosed and treated the first case of HIV related pneumocystis pneumonia in Knoxville. My patient, Bob, was a prince of a guy, but his immune system had been destroyed by the AIDS virus, and in the 1980s we couldn’t save him.

I have never seen a case of leprosy and I’m glad. The infection destroys the nervous system causing the loss of feeling which results in repeated injury and secondary bacterial infections. Leprosy was a horrific disease in antiquity, not only because of the disfigurement it produced, but because those with the disease were considered “unclean” and banished from society. It is probable that not all ancient skin conditions and blemishes were due to leprosy. After all, priests in charge of determining whether a condition was cured and removing the stigma of unclean were not dermatologists.

Recently, my dermatologic skills were challenged. I believe you love your children, but you “worship” your grandchildren. So imagine my concern when I received an iPhone picture from the beach showing my granddaughter’s angry skin rash. Fortunately, my diagnosis was not a horrific “flesh-eating” bacterial skin disease, but a variation of impetigo.

I’m sure many of you have seen or heard of this crusty strep and staph bacterial skin condition commonly seen in children. My granddaughter’s blister-like rash was a less common variation and generated considerable anxiety in our family’s text messaging. Fortunately, granddad’s advice led to proper evaluation and successful treatment with antibiotics. And Josie was not ostracized, nor did we have to visit a priest to have a label of “ceremoniously unclean” expunged.

A couple of years ago I learned that healing and curing were different. As a doctor I was always focused on treating my patients with the hope of restoring them to good health. I actually considered a career as an infectious disease subspecialist with the notion that cures were often possible. I’m glad that I chose internal medicine and geriatrics because the AIDS epidemic struck and now infectious disease doctors take care of chronic HIV infection, just as I manage chronic coronary artery disease and diabetes.

In antiquity healing was the goal since there were few medical cures. When “healed” a person was restored to the community and no longer banished. Imagine being sick, disfigured by leprosy and alone. The woman who came to Jesus, hemorrhaging for seven years and likewise “ceremoniously unclean,” was cured and healed by the Master and restored to her community and family.

Becky and I just arrived in Portland, Oregon to see the PCOs (Portland Cute Ones). We were in Portland, Maine visiting friends in August, and now on the opposite side of the continent visiting grandkids. As we left the airport we saw the first homeless tents which are so prevalent in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco. As of this writing, I’ve seen no evidence of Antifa, although there are lots of crusty people on street corners and in the local Kroger affiliate. We’re careful in this foreign land. Last week a man wearing a MAGA hat at a Portland restaurant was severely beaten.

As I strolled, my granddaughter in the neighborhood at nap time, I was curious to see if the ubiquitous virtue signaling yard signs of Portland were still present. They were. Admittedly, the banal slogans trigger in me not anger but revulsion. I recalled the sagacity of Mark Twain who once said, “No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot.”

I felt the same regarding a crusty virtue-warrior who recently took me to task for my opinions in my column. His comments were inane, but I was polite, and after thanking him for reading my column, I closed by telling him that I would add him to my prayer list. You would have thought I was wearing a MAGA hat from the triggered diatribe!

I am not a formally trained writer. I believe you learn to write by writing, and like most worthwhile endeavors it takes practice. Actually, I fancy my crusty essays as homemade, then rendered presentable by my grammarian wife and editress, Becky.

Grammatical license with crusty language is painfully evident in the media where journalists (?) use misplaced modifiers and sometimes even incorrect verb tense. Admittedly, I have used slang. An example is “woke” instead of awakened. I first heard this phrasing in the urban slang of the black lives matter movement. I’ll never be accused of “coolness,” preferring classical music to pop and rap “musical” offerings whose lyrics are crusty to say the least.

Admittedly, I am a conservative who favors tradition and slower, more measured change. I’m concerned about the coarsening of our language and culture and the loosening of social morays. One look at my picture will tell you that I am not a cool hipster. I can’t identify with the crusty street people of Portland or those under Knoxville’s viaduct. In our zeal to not judge, we tolerate disturbed people on the street, drug abuse and eschew constraints on normalcy. I am sympathetic to people who are different, but I do not believe minorities should be the driving force of normalcy or used as victim-tools by pandering politicians.

Perhaps I am just a crusty American traditionalist. I believe in right and wrong and fairness. I believe in the rule of law, and its absence in Washington DC. And I believe in God. History shows what happens when apostasy and functional atheism replaces the Almighty.

Plato once noted that Athenian youth had no respect for their elders and the country was going to the dogs. And I guess it’s still going to the dogs, especially in our so-called Justice Department of Washington. Perhaps my observations are just crusty, politically incorrect and obsolete.

November 2020 will decide whether American traditional values are, like me, just crusty and obsolete.