Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
“Be smart. Go back to school.”
John Goldkrand, M.D.
§ My time in Vietnam provided opportunities for reflection on many things including lessons to be learned. To begin, I had plenty of time to consider my views of Asia and the Vietnam War. Asia and China and the vast hordes of the Yellow Race have frightened the West for centuries. They certainly did so in the 60s and 70s as we fretted and bombed, defoliated and destroyed in response to what the American government feared might fulfill the domino theory. I remember eating up the idea in high school. Some time before I took the big trip to Asia, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Mitchell Daily Republic sounding off on how I believed we had to stand up to “Communist aggression.”
I eventually began to understand the bogeyman of fear which we project around us. A generation before, it was anarchists. Then, it was communists. Today, it is terrorists. Always someone at which to point the finger.
In part from my Vietnam experience, I came to another conclusion that I was quite wrong about the whole situation.
Thankfully, I did not turn out dead wrong like lots of young American warriors. [Over 50,000 dead and three times as many wounded. Millions of Asians, combatants and civilians, died in the conflict. Those numbers are rarely tallied.]
Many stories passed before me of the atrocities, deliberate and accidental, dealt by young Americans upon the people of Vietnam. Karmic debts are paid in many ways. Sadly, death and disability figure prominently in the toll. How easily bodies can be maimed and lives destroyed.
I also remember pondering my own mortality especially during my time at Song Be. On one occasion, I had a half waking dream of dying in battle. Some war, somewhere. I suspect at this stage of history, practically every human being has been a soldier numerous times and died in one uniform or another hither thither and yon. When will we learn the lessons of war?
The other major point of reflection in those days had to do with my future. I began to think that while sitting in classrooms could be mighty boring, so was being a soldier in the middle of war. A soldier's lot is often, “Hurry up ... and wait.” Often boring, it can turn deadly dangerous in minutes. I began to turn my thoughts back to school and learning in more orthodox ways. §
Unlike Chris Martinez, I decided a few extra months on active duty stateside was a better choice than a few more in the Republic of Vietnam. After some days of leave with my parents, I reported to Fort Riley, KS, and was assigned to the emergency room of Irwin Army Hospital.
Fort Riley was the home of the First Infantry Division – The Big Red One – and had a history dating back to frontier days. General George Armstrong Custer was stationed there after the Civil War. Inevitably, he found his way into Dakota Territory where he met the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and an early death as did all of his men. One might wonder what karmic stories stood behind that fateful meeting at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Custer, his name and legend, were spread all over Fort Riley, from Custer Hill to the base’s museum and its stables. Still, Vietnam and its swath of effects were more prominent during my time.
Interestingly, the movie MASH was released during my short stint there. I remember the hubbub about the film. The top brass didn’t want it shown on Army bases, or so the word was spent abroad. By the time the anti-establishment picture made it through its struggle with bureaucracy, the troops were gnawing at the bit. The movie house was packed when I saw the showing. The soldiers whooped and hollered as the story unfolded and made light of the military hierarchy and the games of war in Korea. The movie's messages had a sense of immediacy because of the current play of war in the Republic of Vietnam.
All that aside, I was pleased to have a “real job” in ER at the base hospital – even though many patients we attended had far from emergent problems. Nonetheless, I got to do some of the work I had imagined doing as a “Clinical Specialist” in Vietnam. Working alongside physicians, attending to real emergencies, doing procedures, suturing lacerations, etc.
Being next to “real doctors” turned out to have a number of perks. One of them took me under his wing for a time and even invited me to follow him into the surgical suite to watch him operate. Doctor John Goldkrand recognized that I had potential and encouraged me, “Be smart. Go back to school, get your degree and apply to med school. You have what it takes, except the degree.”
The encouragement of Goldkrand and others helped build my confidence to head in that direction. While finishing my military obligation, I took extension courses through Kansas State University. One was on Philosophies of South Asia which became my introduction – for this lifetime – to the religions of the East which have become as important to me as those of the West. Even though I may missed some opportunities during my Asian tour, the year in Vietnam nudged me into then unfamiliar but anciently well-known experiences of the Orient.
Besides taking courses locally, I began looking at colleges. I decided I wanted to go to a modest-sized school in a modest-sized city, and in the south land. Texas Christian University in Fort Worth caught my eye and I headed south to attend in the late summer of 1970.
I then had the GI Bill to pay my tuition and fees, etc. But, I also went to work at various medical jobs to put extra money in the pot as well as expand my experiences. For a year or so, I assisted in the Xray department of All Saints Hospital. I have to stop and tell a story which has stayed with me for these many years, one at which Mr. Cayce might smile. During my weekend job, I couldn’t help noticing how medical facilities keep the “revolving door” open for many patients. One particular weekend, an old fellow with a number of chronic problems appeared for his latest admission chest Xray.
I wheeled the patient into the “shooting room,” listening to the banter between technician and patient. The two recognized each other from earlier trips to XRAY, the patient having been hospitalized in recent weeks. The tech, trying to be friendly, asked the man how he was doing. He replied, “Not so good or I wouldn’t be here.”
The technician picked up the thread of the conversation with all good intent and another kindly but not too wise thought, “Oh, you’ll be okay. We’ll have you back to your old self in no time.”
Ah, but wasn’t the “old self” part of the man’s problems, maybe THE problem. It seems a simple truth that when we are resistant to change and move towards our newer and truer selves, we set ourselves up to struggle physically and otherwise with that old self that gets in the way.
Later on, I took a job in the emergency room of Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital. Actually, I was the emergency room until I needed help and called for a physician to take over. It was a good opportunity to touch base with another kind of practitioner, although the D.O.s at the hospital rarely used their osteopathic skills. Which is probably more commonly the case now as then.
One brief story remains in mind from my days at Fort Worth Osteopathic. A man in his thirties came in asking to be seen for a recurring abdominal complaint. During my history taking, he uncovered his belly and showed me three scars there. I thought to myself that with one more, we cold play tic-tac-toe. But, it really wasn’t funny. Especially when his young son came close, uncovered his own belly, and said, “Oh, Daddy! Look I don’t have any of those scratches like you do.” Hopefully, he never would. But, I had to wonder.
With some trepidation not having completed chemistry nor taken physics in high school, I jumped into the prerequisites for medical school. Chemistry turned out to be a cakewalk and I especially liked Organic Chemistry because of the professor. Dr. Clifford Venier was a real teacher who was keen on his subject. He involved himself with his students in a number of ways. I took Physics one summer and found it less than enjoyable.
I eventually found that there were openings in the degree program of Medical Technology [hospital laboratory] which suited me just fine. It took up the last year of school with some classes at the hospital but mostly working in the laboratory in an OJT format. The best part was that there was a stipend for students who joined up. It was like going to work, rather than going to college.
Still, there was more to TCU than books and classes with all manner of activities. But, I was not a frequent participant. The University didn’t have not much of a football team and I was never much of a football fan. But during my days in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs boasted a great basketball team and I enjoyed watching them play. A fond, but very faded memory.
Dorm life and a bookish roommate called Rock [he was a geology major] took up some time. Then, there were the Guys with whom I made one of my early and few experimentations with the Evil Weed. I found it comforting, relaxing, and certainly mind altering. I learned quickly not to drive under the influence. The one time I drove in such state, it seemed that blocks would sail by in mere moments.
While the Guys persisted with marijuana, I let it go rather quickly. That was made easier when I moved off campus to make the trio of McCall, McQuade and McNary. But, that didn’t last very long. The house was too noisy and busy for me. So, I took a little room at the home of Mrs. McKinney, a sweet elderly woman who was kind and thoughtful to her tenant.
There were a number of major turning points in my life during my college days. Following on my brief encounters with the demonized marijuana, I moved into quite different territory. First, I was drawn to explore the evangelical Christianity spread around campus in different ways. It was new territory for a small town boy used to plain old Methodism. For a time, I attended meetings of the Gerry Craft Youth Association which proselytized while trying to uplift TCU students. Reading a tract alone one night in my dorm room, I was touched by the message of God’s presence not just in the world but in every human being. A simple thought, but one which stirred me deeply. “Emmanuel, God in us, God in me.”
I felt for a moment filled with light. That memory too is faded, but the instant seems akin to the conversion experience so commonly talked about among Evangelicals. I was Born Again, so to speak.
Still in subsequent days, when I was asked, “Are you Born Again?” I really didn’t know quite what to say. I understood the question, but did not know how to rightly answer. Eventually after I stopped hearing the query and was introduced to the teachings of Mr. Cayce, I came to a response which I have had rare opportunity to use. Even if I did, the receiver might not understand or want to understand.
“Certainly, I am Born Again, or have been. I was born again in Mitchell, South Dakota in 1948 into a Methodist family. And, that was after being born many, many times in many traditions and in many places. I am a Born-Again Hindu-Christian-Buddhist-Jew, with a Druidic twist.” The “twist” part was added in much later years. I will gladly tell the story behind it on request.
Secondly while frequenting the Youth Association, I met Kathy Wilson, the woman who became my wife of nine years. I was smitten from the first encounter. I can still see the long checkered summer dress with red trim she wore to go with her strawberry blonde hair.
I was only 23 and still a virgin when we married the following winter in her hometown of New Orleans. By that time, I was already applying to medical school a year earlier than most. I slipped away between our wedding and Kathy’s birthday to interview at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
A few days later returning to Fort Worth, we toured the Texas Medical Center where we would eventually spend most of four years. I remember walking some paces behind Kathy for a few moments on our self-guided tour of the huge installation. A wave of wonder came over me as I asked to myself, “Are you going to spend the rest of your life with this woman?”
Well, the writing was already on the wall. It was not a good way to start any commitment and especially a marriage. I loved Kathy, and still do although I have not seen her in thirty years. But, I married the first woman with whom I was intimate or close to intimate with. And, I the Virgo helper-healer married someone I thought I could help. Little did I realize where that kind of thinking was to lead with Kathy and a number of others in my life.
At this late juncture, I have concluded that it is not all that common for people to really want help. Even when they say they do. Which is one of the reasons medical treatments are so often ineffective. Reflecting on Mr. Cayce’s work, I wonder if times have changed in that regard. Or did Cayce draw people who were in such extremes that they really, really wanted help and would do the work necessary in their dis-eased lives.
In any case, Kathy and I set up housekeeping in the campus. While I turned toward Medical Technology in hopeful preparation for medical school, Kathy studied for a degree in nursing. She was another who wanted to be a helper. My wife was a warm, friendly, caring person. Energetic and engaging at times, but like all of us, with built-in, hard-to-change flaws. Kathy’s biggest imperfection was her imperfection. She was never good enough, lacking confidence and self-esteem.
Like so many other things that people lack in their make-up, self-esteem was one Robert could not make up for. Still, she seemed to manage fairly well while we were at TCU. She went through the hoops and got her BSN a few months after I got my degree.
Thirdly in the midst of our studies, Kathy and traveled back to South Dakota for a holiday stay with my parents. What might have been just another family visit became a bright spot on the road less traveled. During our time there, my younger brother Tom did me a extraordinary favor. Maybe I still owe him for it.
Tom had never been much of a student. He struggled through high school and needed our mother’s help to get him through his English classes. Mom was not a scholar herself and barely got through Kimball High School, but she tutored him in her own way to get passing grades.
Tom was recently returned from serving in the Coast Guard and would eventually nail down a degree in Geography. I sometimes wonder if my sister-in-law, a schoolteacher, didn’t pull him through college. You see, books never meant much to him. I doubt if Brother Tom reads a couple books in a year. I imagine him having one of the smallest libraries of a college graduate in South Dakota. I believe that picture to be fairly accurate.
So, the family was at the bowling lanes for an evening of fun and games, when Tom started to tell me about an unusual man to whom he had been introduced. It was hard to believe then as now, but out of my brother’s mouth came words something like, “Butch [my name in the family], one of my Coast Guard friends told me about this guy Edgar Cayce. Ever hear of him? [Well, I sure hadn’t.] He was an amazing fella. He was an uneducated man from Kentucky who would go into a trance and come up with all kinds of strange information and especially medical stuff. YOU ought to read about him.”
The punch line was that “Tom had a book” about Edgar Cayce in his room at the family house. And, he wanted me to read it. Honestly, I don’t know if Tom ever read the book. But, I took it and read it on the bus ride back to Texas. It was the little biography by Joseph Millard entitled Mystery Man of Miracles.
Well, that moment was truly more of a life-changer than my conversion experience or my marriage as I soon joined the Association for Research and Enlightenment. Quickly, I began to study the Black Book – Individual Reference File. Before long, I was reading and notating Circulating Files.
I have not had the fortune to have an esteemed, living teacher in this lifetime. But, my relationship with Edgar Cayce and his work certainly made up for that lack. I consider my time with Cayce to have been on the level of “A Meeting with a Remarkable Man.” I date the beginning of my real life circa 1973. The rest is BC and AC: Before Cayce and After Cayce. At age twenty-four, I was reborn from the mundane into a realm of possibilities, I was awakened into a space of expanding light, I was offered opportunities and tools to begin the building of a whole life. Of course, it was just a beginning – another beginning – but, it was a powerful and exciting one. Even today, I am not fully aware of all the challenges, happy as well as painful ones, which were precipitated by my discovery of and commitment to the Cayce paradigm.
My earliest challenge as a result of my Cayce studies was to take another look at the whole of medicine. I realized rather quickly that if I was really going to embrace the Cayce concept, I would have to develop an interest in preventive medicine. Having worked in the fast-paced arena of the emergency room for a few years, I worried, “Oh, I'll be bored by modernity’s simplistic and dull efforts at health promotion.”
But, I soon recognized the wonder, value, and opportunity offered in the true preventive approach to health care which blends with holistic medicine. Prevention, like any day-to-day process, is not glamorous, but eventuates in valuable change. It requires a reorientation from attempts at the quick fix to the long effort and a widened perspective.
The Cayce philosophy gave me insights into the breadth and depth of bodily life – the human constitution, the nature of healing, and the vital relationship between God and man. It offered me an alternate reality with which to view the world. It was a mystical, optimistic, and idealistic one which had a potent effect on a naive student of medicine. Still, the Cayce pardigm was couched both in scientific terms and in holistic perspectives. I grasped the picture firmly and ran with it. Yet, the Cayce ideal was not simple to apply. It demanded work and change, self-searching and discovery.
While I dug into the Readings, I also was involved in the road to physician-hood. I applied again to several Texas medical schools and made the rounds for interviews. I remember mentally checking off one school where the interviewer boasted that, “All the old tests from previous years are available for you to review.” Well, that didn’t say much for the school or its students.
Another interviewer told me, “You’re a little older to begin than most of our students. We like our graduates to be able to put in a good forty years before retiring.” Really?! Was I too old already at 25? That official certainly would have checked me off his list if he had a clue how few years I would eventually practice medicine.
Then, there was the medical student interviewer at one institution who was sure that, “In our lifetimes, medical science will discover the key to immortality. We won’t need to die. Or we will be able to live as long as we want. Think of it. Won’t that be grand?” Well, I have thought of it and I think the fellow was dreaming. And, that the idea is really not so grand. Dying is part of the whole process of existence, much like sleep in necessary to support the waking state.
To the good fortune of my medical intentions, I interviewed in Houston with a pediatrician who took a liking to me even before we shook hands. He said something like, “I have reviewed your scores, resumé and history. Your personal biography is impressive. Keep that story line intact and I will be happy to recommend you to be invited to attend our school.” That was a great way to start a conversation.
Sadly, I have long since forgotten the name of the interviewer. I suspect he must have moved on to other work in later months or I would have found him at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. UTMSH was to become home for Kathy and me from 1974 to 1977.
Deep in the Heart of Texas: Chapter 6