From the book:
THE END AND THE BEGINNING
- The best laid plans of mice and men
- often go astray,
- And leave us grief and pain
- instead of promised joy.
- - Robert Burns (Paraphrased)
My third heart attack was the worse by far than the previous
two. I spent ten days in intensive care, three weeks in step
down, and a month recovering at home doing nothing. My cardiologist
and long-time friend Phil Woods told me in no uncertain terms
that either I had to radically change my lifestyle or quickly
make my final arrangements. I chose the former. My first two
infarcts were the result of too much rich food and good wine
plus too much work and too little exercise; I have no doubt that
this last attack was brought on by stress. It hit at the end
of the most stressful twelve-month period of my sixty-one years
on this earth.
The cascade of events started routinely enough. I had been
treating Ron Etterman for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
for about six months. Instead of making the progress I had hoped
for, the episodes were becoming more frequent and more violent.
Increasingly the focus of his rage was his wife who, as far as
I could tell, did nothing to incur his wrath. None of the medications
I prescribed had any noticeable effect.
As a result of a conference with his wife and two grown sons,
Ron was unwillingly admitted to an acute psychiatric hospital.
He immediately demanded a hearing that he got ten days later,
and against my earnest protests and those of his treatment team,
he was released.
He went home and promptly tried to strangle his wife. Had his
two sons not pulled him away from her he would have succeeded.
He fled, and disappeared into the backstreets and alleys of New
York City. A week later he walked into my office and demanded
to see me. My secretary informed him that I was with a patient
and asked him to wait. He became infuriated, and she called building
security. He left immediately avoiding apprehension.
During my thirty years in private practice I followed the
unwritten rule of most physicians I know, I shared neither the
address of my residence or my home phone number with my patients.
If there were an emergency, my service could contact me. I don't
know how Etterman got our Long Island address; he refused to
tell me. But he did, and late in the afternoon two weeks after
he stormed out of my office he rang our doorbell. When my wife
opened the door, he grabbed her and pulled her onto our porch
where he strangled the life out of her. Then he calmly walked
The same day that my wife was buried Etterman was arrested
for assaulting a patron in a neighborhood bar. During his booking,
he began raving about how he had avenged himself against Satan's
mistress. Over and over again he claimed she was disguised as
my wife whose name and address he repeated several times. It
took more than a week but the link was finally made, Etterman
was charged with my wife's murder and bound over for trial.
I did what I always discouraged my patients from doing, I
buried myself in work to avoid grieving. During the nine months
before Etterman's trial, I increased my patient load, and therefore
my office hours, by a third, and worked late into the night and
long hours on weekends on a textbook for psychiatric residents
I had been contracted to write. I also lived on black coffee,
fast foods, and started smoking again after a ten-year hiatus.
Almost immediately I was smoking as much as I had been when I
quit -- two packs a day.
Although the forensic evidence left little doubt about Etterman's
guilt, the expensive defense team hired by Ron's parents plead
him not guilty by reason of insanity and demanded a jury trial.
I testified for six hours, most of that time being cross-examined
by the defense team that scrutinized both my private and professional
life in an effort to find something that would discredit my testimony.
The hardest part of the whole ordeal for me, however, was to
have to look at my wife's murderer as he sat calmly, and apparently
very rationally, in front of me at the defense table with his
Then there were the agonizing four days during which the jury
determined Etterman's fate. He was found guilty, but not by reason
of insanity. His competence to stand trial had never been challenged.
When the verdict was announced, Etterman began raving incoherently
and rushed at the jury foreman, a petite, middle-aged woman whom
he tried to strangle.
I had to face him again at his sentencing hearing during which
both the court psychiatrist and I urged that he be committed
to the state hospital for the criminally insane. The judge ignored
our suggestion and sentenced Etterman to life in prison without
the possibility of parole.
With that part of the nightmare over I resumed my hectic and
self-destructive lifestyle. My well-earned heart attack occurred
in the early hours of the morning shortly after I had dragged
my overworked self into bed. It awakened me, and I immediately
knew what was happening. I called 911 from my bedside phone,
and then with agonizing difficulty made my way down stairs and
unlocked the front door. The EMTs found me on the floor of the
foyer unconscious and barely breathing.
During my month of medical house arrest, I did a lot of thinking,
as well as finished writing the textbook. As a result of my illness,
some of my patients had been shifted to one of my colleagues,
but the majority were being seen by my daughter, a competent
psychiatrist in her own right, and her husband who is a licensed
clinical psychologist. The easiest part of creating my new life
was turning my practice over to them. The hardest was dismantling
my thirty-five years of marriage.
We had lived a comfortable life, one of mutual love, mutual
wants, needs, desires, and dreams. Sunday was our day together,
and we often spent those mornings in bed drinking tea together
and planning the week ahead; more recently our retirement. We
read brochures, figured costs, set our destinations. Our future
seemed even better than our present. Etterman robbed us of that,
and I harbored a hatred directed both at him and life in general.
I became increasingly morose and reclusive.
Physician heal thyself. That doesn't work.
Grudgingly, and only after much nagging by my daughter and
son-in-law, I joined a grief therapy group. That helped! I began
to see the possibility of a future life instead of an endless
void of despair. I'm sure the strict diet that excluded coffee
and cigarettes, and the exercise regimen mostly walking
Phil forced me to adopt helped also. I felt better emotionally
and physically, but I also began to feel restless. I wanted to
do something with my remaining life.
My daughter suggested I take up painting, but I can't even draw
a straight line with the aid of a ruler. Besides, that pursuit
didn't interest me at all.
"Why not write," she asked one Sunday morning when
she dropped by the house for brunch; she did that frequently
during the long months of my convalescence. I had several professional
journal articles to my credit, but because I was no longer seeing
patients, I didn't feel I had anything new to write about.
"Do you remember when we all used to go camping?"
my daughter asked one Sunday morning. "You used to tell
mother and me stories, stories you made up when we would sit
around the campfire together. They were great stories. I've often
wished you had written them down so that I could read them to
Some threads of those stories began to wander into the forefront
of my memory. "I think I may try that," I said with
some conviction. Anything for my grandchildren! I did and found
telling stories for the benefit of children a very rewarding
endeavor. A patient of my son-in-law was an editor for one of
the larger publishing houses. She read one of my stories, passed
it on to an editor in their children's department, and shortly
after that my first book of stories for children was published.
I rented an apartment in the city to be closer to my editor.
As I spent more and more time there, our house on Long Island
became a nagging concern. I didn't need it. In fact, there was
too much of my wife still there for me to feel comfortabletoo
many memories. I gave my children those of our possessions they
wanted, auctioned off the rest, and put the house on the market.
It sold quickly, and I settled into my apartment with few regrets.
During a routine physical, Phil found danger signs. Was I
being faithful to my diet? Mostly. Some fast food when I was
in a hurry, but not much. Was I walking regularly? He had me
there. The only walking I did anymore was around my apartment
and to and from elevators. Walking on those crowded city streets
carried a high element of risk, besides it was currently the
midst of winter and walking in the damp, dreary cold held no
allure for me.
"You need another change, and you need it NOW!" Phil's
concern was very apparent in his voice. "You need to live
someplace where you can walk EVERY day! You need to live someplace
where it is quiet, and you are surrounded by tranquility. You
need to find your Garden of Eden where you can breathe clean
air, drink pure water, and that is entirely devoid of fast food.
A place where you can write your stories in comfort and good
OK, where? Money was not an issue. Our house was paid for
and sold for a considerable profit. We had invested wisely, and
I had a monthly income from that. Two of my books were modestly
well received, and the royalties were additional security. I
could afford to live almost anywhere. But I did not want to leave
my life in the City. Nor did I want to be far removed from my
family. A place where I could walk every day was a criterion
that was further limiting.
My wife and I had looked into places where we could winter
in relative comfort after I retired. I had filed away all that
information after her death; I got it out again. To possibly
relocate to a place that we had tentatively chosen felt fitting,
felt right. I found that I had several options; I kept coming
back to one.
Years ago we had taken a trip west during which we visited
a college roommate of mine who had set up his family medical
practice in Tomque (pronounced TUM-KEE.), a small town in Arizona.
One of the many things that he liked about the location was the
weather. It seldom rained, snow was an infrequent visitor, and
between sunrise and sunset the temperature ranged from the low
fifties to the high seventies almost every day; perfect weather
for walking. And it was only two hours by car to Phoenix International
Airport, my gateway to family and old friends.
As soon as I could arrange it, I was on my way to Tomque. I was
warmly received by my old roommate, invited to stay as long as
I wanted in his sprawling Spanish-style house, and given lots
of assistance in my search for my Garden of Eden, which I found
near the end of my second week in town.
It was a small house, the rooms all on one floor, no wearing
stairs to climb. It was located at the north edge of town adjacent
to a small park. The park was the beginning and the end of a
gravel path that meandered for five miles through the surrounding
desert. At intervals, the path hosted benches located in shady
spots. If I had designed it, it could not have been more to my
liking or benefit.