Roots

By Dr. Jim Ferguson
Through some curious twist of fate the magazine Southern Living comes to our home addressed to me.  To the best of my knowledge my only subscriptions are dry as toast medical journals.  Though I’m proud to call myself a southerner, I’ve never leafed through the magazine of Southern Living.  You could split hairs and say that East Tennesseans are from the mid-south as opposed to the deep south of Alabama.  Perhaps our dialect defines us.  Those of us in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains speak with a nasal twang rather than a drawl of the Deep South.  But I say we’re all southerners.

In my travels, people have often mistakenly thought I was a Texan.  If you recall the Alamo and Davy Crockett, you’ll remember that many Texans have roots in Tennessee – ignore the country song that quips, “All My Exes Live in Texas.”  I’m quick to explain that my nasal twang is in part related to water which makes things grow and produces pollen and mold.  When trees fall in our forests they rot from decomposition by fungi.  This is not the case in the drier western Rocky Mountains where trees may lay on the forest floor for decades.

All of us came from somewhere.  In fact, science can trace human ancestry to the Olduvai Gorge of the Great Rift Valley in Africa.  Even the native-Americans of North America came from Asia across the Bering ice-bridge during the last ice age.  My ancestry can be traced to northern Europe, including Germany, England and especially Ireland and Scotland.  During the last Ice Age Germanic tribes migrated to Britain and Ireland.  Then, beginning about 12,000 years ago, the Earth warmed, the ice melted, the seas rose and my ancestors were trapped on the British Isles.  Someone needs to inform Al-gore that we reside within an inter-glacial period known as the Holocene epoch.  Given the cold we’re now experiencing I’m glad it’s “warmer” – even though science demonstrates that global temperatures have not risen for the last 17 years.

It is thought that Fergusons migrated from Ireland to the Argyle region of southwestern Scotland around the time of Christ.  They must have been a tough breed with sturdy boats because I’ve seen the rough Irish Sea that is bitterly cold.  None the less, they made it and my ancestors eventually came to America during the waves of immigration of the 1800s and early 20th century.

I once cared for an elderly woman named Ferguson “a long time ago in [an Emergency room] far, far away.”  My namesake was in florid congestive heart failure (CHF), coughing and miserably short of breath.  Few medical treatments are as dramatic as the diuretic furosemide in CHF.  Older doctors like me may recall the CHF therapeutic regimen known by the acronym MAD DOG designed to help doctors remember the various medicinal agents during a crisis.  We used morphine, aminophylline, diuretics (furosemide), digitalis, oxygen and sometimes other adjunctive measures like nitroglycerin to stabilize patients.  These days there are many additional and better therapies for CHF, but diuretics remain a cornerstone of treatment.

When the heart pump is weakened fluid accumulates and can literally drown a patient.  Diuretics remove excessive fluid from an overloaded system, and actually improve the heart’s pumping capacity.  Similarly, newer agents work to lower the blood pressure and improve the forward flow of each heart-beat.  These newer agents also lessen the deleterious effects of stress hormones produced in a distressed cardiovascular system.  Those of you who want more information should Google Starling’s Law.

Ms. Ferguson responded beautifully to my medical cocktail and within thirty minutes her coughing and breathlessness had disappeared and she showed her appreciation by telling me a story of “our” roots.  Purportedly, a long time ago a man named Ferguson settled in the Carolinas before there was a North and South Carolina or a Tennessee.  The patriarchal Ferguson supposedly divided his land holdings among his three sons, spreading the Ferguson brand all the way to the Mississippi River.  I once spent an intense week with Ancestry.com, but couldn’t trace my roots to the Carolinas.  However, a friend of mine maintains that you should never spoil a good story with facts.  So I’ll always cherish my namesake’s rendition as more real than facts distorted by the sands of time and memories.

Rick Bragg is one of my favorite Southern authors.  I especially enjoy his essays which appear on the last page of “my” Southern Living magazine.  Like Mr. Bragg, I’ve published a book – and I’ll have a second one soon.  However, Mr. Bragg and I both seem drawn to the essay format.  Books are fine when the writing is good, but there seems so little of this these days.  I marvel at the volumes soon relegated to bookstore clearance tables.  I also like short poems, where every word seems pregnant with meaning.  Perhaps short essays are just long enough.

It seems to me that Mr. Bragg’s best work occurs when he writes about “his people” who hail from Alabama.  You may have heard of Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, who also wrote a book about “my people.”  Though Senator Webb is a Democrat he passes my muster because his roots began as a Marine, and he didn’t sully his reputation by sidling up to Harry Reid and his progressive ilk.  Mr. Webb first came to my attention with a fine book about the southern Appalachian Scotsmen.  I might have chosen a different title for Senator Webb’s book, but “Born Fighting” does describe our pugnacious spirit.

All cultures have stories of origins and ancestral roots.  The Old Testament of the Bible is the greatest extant history of a people, the Hebrews.  And even they had different Creation stories.  If you doubt me reflect on the differences between the first and second chapters of Genesis.

Fortunately, I believe God loves all his children, even those who are confused.  It’s a good thing because some of us, by human standards, may seem a bit unlovable at times, especially when we’re fighting.

 

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