WICHITA, Kan. - People of a certain age often find their conversations turning to ailments, doctors, medical tests, and drugs they have to take to deal with those ailments. I suppose that is to be expected when often the highlight of a person's day is going to a doctor's appointment or for an MRI. The water aerobics class at one of the Wichita YMCAs is full of people around my age. We are retired and while most of us are relatively healthy, we do have minor health issues that we often discuss in the locker room after our workouts.
I have a minor heart problem that is easily managed by a couple of fairly inexpensive drugs. Years ago, my family doctor referred me to a cardiologist. It was then I met Dr. Farhat, a young, red-haired man who came here from Lebanon some years before and started his cardiology clinic with several other doctors of Lebanese birth. Dr. Farhat is a soft-spoken man who treats patients gently and with respect. He explains what's going on with my heart in detail, even when he's running behind because of an emergency he's had to deal with.
The heart problem was diagnosed before 9/11. During that time I was on the board at the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas. I shortly after became chair of the board. One of the projects of the Peace Center was to work with local Muslims to build bridges in order to end the hatred and fear some Wichitans felt toward those of a different religious background.
I happened to have an appointment with Dr. Farhat soon after the terrorist attacks. We had a conversation about how the events of 9/11 had shaken all of us. I told him then that I was on the Peace Center and let him know that we were doing what we could to ease tensions in Wichita. In fact, some of our members were and still are members of the Muslim community, so it was easy enough to work with that community to develop solutions to the problems that 9/11 had brought to the surface.
Years later, there I was in the Y locker room talking to an acquaintance about her heart problems. She told me she was going to see a new doctor and mentioned his name, a Middle-Eastern name. I told her who my cardiologist was and how much I liked him. Then she said, "I hate to go to foreign doctors." When I asked why, she said she didn't trust "those people."
At first, I was going to leave without any response to her comment, then I had second thoughts. I turned around and asked, jokingly, if she thought her doctor would blow her up while he examined her heart. She laughed and said no, she wasn't worried about that. I then pointed out to her that doctors who came from other countries were more interested in helping sick people, making money, and living the good life than they were in committing acts of violence. That's why they came to America in the first place. She seemed to think about that, but didn't say anything. We both went on our way and I decided it would be a good idea to drop the matter.
This encounter made me think, though. I've had some contact with Muslims of Middle Eastern descent. When I was teaching full time, I shared an office with a Muslim man from Lebanon. He was and still is, I suppose, a favorite of students who have to take math and algebra to get their degrees. He's patient and his explanations of math problems are clear and understandable. He once asked me to write a poem for a woman he loved and ended up marrying. I used the image of circles because so much Middle Eastern art incorporates circular designs.
He and I used to go to lunch every so often. When Al Gore was running against George W. Bush for president, I asked him who he supported in the election. Surprisingly, he said Bush. At the time, I didn't know it, but he ran a business on the side and his business interests were more important to him politically than his teaching interests.
Right after 9/11, my husband and I went to a local mosque for a gathering for peace. We stood in a circle and listened to people talk about their desire for healing in the country. Among us were a couple of police officers in their uniforms. I'm sure they were there to head off any trouble, but they joined in the circle. Also, among us were little girls in Girl Scout uniforms, little boys in their best clothes, women in head scarves, and well-dressed men and women of several ethnicities, a true representation of America.
I will see Dr. Farhat for my yearly checkup this summer. He will come flying into the examining room wearing his lab coat and his tennis shoes. He'll tell me, as he always does, that my heart is fine and that will be it. I'll leave the clinic in one piece and go about my business. Dr. Farhat will continue to see patients and do his best to make them whole.