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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Heart in the Right Place”

This is a refreshingly different memoir! The author is not a drug addict or alcoholic, nor was she abused as a child. In todayís memoir market that equals three big strikes against the marketability of this book. But, occasionally some sly writer slips into the mix, skipping the standard ìwoe is meî bugaboo. In ìHeart in the Right Place,î Carolyn Jourdan reveals how fate offered her the opportunity to become more than rich and successful. Her story is upbeat, funny, introspective and proves that happiness is often found where we least expect it.After receiving degrees in biomedical engineering and law from the University of Tennessee, Carolyn found a niche for her skills in Washington D.C. While the Capital isnít a great distance from her childhood home east of Knoxville, the high-paced lifestyle and financial advantages offered in the nationís seat of power made the two places appear light years apart. In a city where everyone is an attorney, success doesnít normally happen overnight. However, after 20 years of gritty determination, Carolyn reached the pinnacle of success when she became ìU.S. Senate Counsel to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.î She rubbed elbows with the political elite, traveled in private jets and dressed in designer outfits. In addition to the perks, she believed the laws the committee sponsored were actually improving peopleís lives.Then, her life takes an unexpected turn when she receives a phone call saying her 72-year-old mother suffered a heart attack. Rushing back to Tennessee, Carolyn assures her boss, Sen. Hayworth, that she will return shortly. Arriving at the hospital, Carolyn finds her mother barely conscious; yet, she manages to reach out and grab her daughterís sleeve. ìYouíve got to fill in for me for a couple of days,î she pleads.As the days turned to weeks ó and then months, Carolyn begins to question her career choice. Did her environmental work in Washington actually make a difference in the world? If so, then what kept her chained to her motherís old desk, working as a receptionist in her fatherís primary care officeIn the prologue, Carolyn reveals a childhood memory that provided the title for this book. When she was 10 years old, her father showed her an X-ray. ìYouíll never see anything like this again,î Dr. Jourdan said, as he pointed to a ìshadowy gray blob near the center of a small rib cage.î The out-of-place heart belonged to a 7-year-old girl. Looking at her fatherís face, Carolyn knew the condition was serious, but all she could think to ask was ó ìHow does she say the pledge?îìHeart in the Right Placeî is more than a memoir, itís a historical account of what it meant to be a family doctor in rural America. Along the way, we get a sense of the Smokey Mountain culture and landscape. Watch as the author slowly becomes aware of what is special about the people and place of her birth.As Carolyn explains, her father was on call 24/7, and it would have been impossible to run his storefront office without his familyís help. The term ìprimary careî was not yet in vogue, nor does it adequately describe Dr. Jourdanís practice. As the only doctor available for much of the rural population of Knox County, he delivered babies; patched up workers who were injured in the local zinc mine, rendering factory or meat-processing plant; along with caring for everyday illnesses. And, yes, he made house calls!His staff included a nurse, Alma, and his wife; who worked as the receptionist, backup nurse and ìjack-of-all trades.î When things got truly hectic, Carolyn manned the phones or handed her father instruments while he performed minor surgeries in his office.There is little doubt Dr. Jourdan wanted Carolyn to follow in his footsteps; unfortunately, when she was 15, she developed a squeamishness to surgical procedures ó fainting when the blood became too profuse. That ended any aspirations she may have had for a career in medicine, and fueled her desire to find a career where she would no longer be a ìspectator to any more catastrophesî that walked into the office daily.Carolynís first day back in the office as an adult didnít go exactly as the cool-headed lawyer expected. First to enter the office are the 90-something Hankins sisters, Herma and Helma, along with their friend Miss Viola, who has what the sisters call ìold-timersî disease. What follows is a hilarious episode involving a hydraulic surgical table ñ- hilarious for the readers ñ- but not for someone used to being in control of any given situation.Next, Carolyn discovers the Medicare coding system is beyond comprehension, even for someone with a law degree. During her childhood, those who could pay for medical care did. Those who couldnít would bring her father preserves, plants and even the back half of a 1935 pickup truck that they were sure the doctor could use as a trailer. Getting reimbursed by Medicare now requires putting the right code into the right box. She finds codes for such ridiculous things as ìSpring Fever,î ìClumsinessî and ìDecapitation, Legal Execution (by guillotine),î but has to dig deep into the book to find the one for ìSprained Ankle.îIn between ushering patients in to see the doctor, Carolyn fields calls from Washington. At first, she misses the action; but, as she reconnects with her Smokey Mountain neighbors, her former life fades into the background. There is Fletcher, her next door neighbor who is always on hand to help – without being asked. And Harley Hawkins, who specializes in sealing underground leaks; his skills are legendary in the mining industry and he has never been injured on the job. But when he isnít working, he drinks and engages in dangerous feats that ultimately require medical attention. Then, there is Michael Mayshark, who suffers from congestive heart failure, but faces his medical condition with unbelievable optimism. Plus, there are a cast of characters who depend on the doctor to save them from their own bad habits.The one thing I found maddening about this memoir is the lack of dates and place names. Digging deep into ìA Conversation with the Authorî at the back of the book, I discovered the name of Carolynís hometown is Strawberry Plains, which is about 6 miles from her fatherís office. While this book was published in 2007, I havenít encountered any dates to let me know when these events took place. Thus, by the end of the book, every reader is left with the same burning question. When did real family doctors disappear from the American landscape?Regardless of what I consider to be a major omission, I highly recommend ìHeart in the Right Placeî because it teaches us an extremely important lesson. Making a difference in peopleís lives can be accomplished through many different occupations. In Carolynís case, happiness was found far away from the limelight, with the simple gesture of caring for her neighbors.

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