By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Some days it’s easier to write than others. Today it’s tough because I have lots of things to do on this gorgeous spring afternoon. Murphey’s Law states that the job at hand expands to fill the time allotted. My corollary to this law is that a job not only fills, but overruns the time available. As I look back, I don’t know how I got anything else done while I was managing a large medical practice!

I love the “new” green colors of spring as new life emerges after the dormancy of winter. I’ve begun to see butterflies, and last week I was surprised to see lightening bugs on “tax day.” I don’t think these early signs of spring have anything to do with global warming or the hyping of the recent “blood moon.” Today I found ants on my peonies. We sometimes think of ants as pests, but they are necessary for these beautiful southern flowers to open. Did you know there are three pronunciations of peonies? There is the sophisticated French-like pee-oh-knees. The southern pee-oh’-knees. And the countrified pie-knees.

My garden is already plowed and planting has begun there and in the pastures of our small farm. Even the horses have a spring in their step with the changing weather and perhaps as their diet shifts from hay to the tender new grass. My grandson, Oakley may be getting this “spring fever” because he constantly wants to “go outside.” There’s a lot to entertain a little boy on a farm, “outside.”

Some years ago I wrote an essay describing winter as especially tough on the frail. This is certainly true in nature where there is no medical care for injured animals. However, winter is also tough for humans despite our support systems. We live in a dangerous world, but due to the wondrous design of our bodies we are able to grub in the dirt of a garden, muck horse stalls, and rarely suffer serious harm even as we endure the pollen of spring. This is possible as long as the defense systems of our skin and our immune system function properly. These systems do age along with the rest of the body, and even young bodies or robust souls can be overwhelmed.

I’ve been thinking about viruses lately with the resurgence of the dreaded Ebola virus epidemic in Africa. Viruses are very primitive entities that we don’t even classify as life forms, principally because they cannot reproduce without a plant or animal host. These invaders cause harm when our defense are overcome and our cell walls are breached. The Trojan Horse was similarly a lifeless structure, but was deadly to ancient Troy because it was filled with lurking Greek warriors who emerged to wreak havoc.

Apparently computers are subject to “viruses” of a different type, referred to by my computer guy as malware. In medicine “mal” refers to disease or sickness, as in malformation or malnourishment. There is also malpractice that connotes injury to a patient when a doctor violates the standards of medical care. Recently my computer’s defenses were overwhelmed. Computer-Doc’s diagnosis was infestation by no less than six “Trojan viruses” – and the treatment to eliminate this infestation has been rough on us all.

I’m not alone in this post-modern world of high tech and “Trojan malware.” According to security experts even the Obama-care web site is vulnerable to viruses like the “heartbleed” malware currently making the rounds. Last week a friend of mine reported that her computer suddenly flashed a message from Homeland Security which said her computer had been flagged for surfing pornography! She was told to go to Walmart and purchase software to fix the problem. My friend is too sharp to fall for this ruse and far too fine a lady to have been “surfing porn,” so instead she took her machine to the computer hospital ER. After a $300 resuscitation a cure was pronounced and the patient was discharged home. Unfortunately, the treatment was incomplete because on her next visit to the internet, my virtuous friend was contacted by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, again with the charge of driving her computer into a “bad neighborhood.”

I’ve learned through all these misadventures to appreciate the security guardians who protect us. I’ve also come to understand that to survive in the 21st century you need not only a good doctor and a reliable car mechanic, but also an available plumber and a first rate computer geek! I’ve also learned to  regularly check my computer’s security program which I envision as analogous to a sentry in the army or a watchman on the wall made famous in modern times by the soliloquy of Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men.

In ancient times people often lived near walled cities for protection and a watchman’s duty was to stand guard on those walls and look for approaching danger. When the exiled Hebrews returned to Jerusalem, Nehemiah led his people to rebuild the protecting wall around the city. Tradition holds that he worked with a trowel in one hand and a spear in the other as he kept watch for enemies.

Some years ago a friend of mine awarded me the honorific title of “watchman.” There are many references to watchmen in the Bible ranging from ordinary men to prophets. I certainly don’t count myself with the latter group. Some might just aver that I’ve got a big mouth. Actually, I don’t have a bully pulpit like the President. All I have is The Focus to continue to sound the alarm as I have done for the last five years. However, what good is a watchman if no one listens or heeds his warnings?