On similarities between doctors and plumbers

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

I always knew there was something about plumbing that was like being a doctor. For the past 20 years, I have been engaged part-time in the plumbing business. My wife bought an apartment building, so over the years I have been called to fix a leaky faucet or to clear a blocked drain. I never liked to use chemicals, but preferred to use a device called a snake.

As I have struggled to open the clean-out line, then run my small hand-operated snake down to find the obstruction, getting my hand mired by the thick petroleum like tar usually mixed with hair, and then pulling the snake from the hole, I have reflected how much this is like being a doctor. Of course, it is much more mundane involving self-education, not the years of toil at a medical school.

What a sense of release and pleasure though, when after putting the pipes back together, the water runs free.

Now I know that what I imagined was true. I got an inkling of this when after a heart attack, I talked to a doctor in Seattle about running a tube up my leg to my heart to look around. It is called an angiogram.

The doctor, who was a specialist, said there was nothing complicated about threading a wire through a blood vessel. The real skill was interpreting the picture taken by the camera on the tip of the wire. I didn't do the angiogram. I was scared, and probably will rue this omission until I reach 80, if I'm so lucky.

But now I know for sure that what I expected was true. They have just developed a new method to treat stroke victims. This is a most serious condition. Usually if the patient lives, it leaves the person with paralysis and brain damage. One prior method was to use chemicals to bust open the blockage. But this was dangerous and had to be done soon after the stroke.

Now they have a new device which is wonderfully effective. It is a cork screw like projection at the end of a wire that is threaded through the body to reach the blocked artery in the brain. As it cuts through the blockage it immediately alters the patient's status. Where he was paralyzed, he is free, where he couldn't think clearly or talk, he is now fully cognitive and anxious and able to speak.

I have gained a lot of wonderful friends by being in the plumbing business, Bruce Romine and Larry Shultz of Larry's Plumbing and Heating, Rusty Powers of the Heating Company, Romer Derr and Fred Braun of Harri Plumbing and Keith Burgess of Jack's Plumbing, among many others.

I am not depending on them for medical advice however; my doctor is Dr. Richard Welling.

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