Dr. Lowell Peterson hopes his story about his experiences as a cardiologist gives others a glimpse of what medicine is really like.
“It was, of course, a career of love for what I was doing, but I wrote about it to record some of the difficulties, not only in my training but in taking care of people. I hope there’s a ‘wow’ aspect to it,” he said.
His journey from a farm in rural Scandinavia to his work as a cardiologist in Appleton is recorded in Heartfelt Journey – A Cardiologist’s Memoirs.
Published this year, it is Peterson’s fourth book.
“I thought I had had a rather unusual experience in medicine – growing up on the farm and never thinking about going to medical school, not having any medical legacy in my family,” he said. “Somehow or other, one thing led to another. I tried to describe in the book how that decision-making occurred.”
Peterson began working on the book about 2 1/2 years ago, following his retirement in February 2009 from the practice of medicine.
The 46 years that his career spanned took place in what he refers to as “the golden age of cardiology.”
During that time, there were many advances in technology, including open-heart surgery, angioplasty, catheters, heart and lung machines, and pacemakers.
“It was a real challenge to keep up with from the family general practitioner to any one of the super specialties,” he said. “Cardiology probably had more tech related than anything else.”
When Peterson began working in cardiology, there were stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, electrocardiograms and a minimal amount of drugs.
Those who had a heart attack were often put on bed rest for two weeks, he recalled.
Today, Peterson says it would be an extreme rarity to see someone with the kind of heart damage that he saw during his early years in cardiology.
“The real advance,” he said, “is we intervene now. We have top-notch ERs, well-qualified family practitioners, and ER physicians who recognize the problem and respond quickly, and the excellent ambulatory services, both on the ground and in the air so we can transport patients rapidly to tertiary centers like Appleton for care, catheterization, angioplasty, stents and surgery, if necessary, so the heart does not become extensively damaged. This is so much different than when I started.”
In his book, Peterson relates numerous case studies, trying to show not only his perspective but his patients, too.
“Everything is from memory,” he said. “There were two cases in there that I did have records of. I found when I started to write this that it was easier to remember the things that didn’t go right.”
When it came to working on the project, there was no rigid writing schedule.
As he remembered things, he wrote the ideas down using longhand before dictating it into his computer. His daughter, Kitty O’Callaghan, did the editing.
There are also many pictures in the books – photographs of family members, former professors and even of old medical textbooks.
Peterson said he wanted to show people how much knowledge had to be accumulated and packed into his head over his lifetime.
“It’s not just book learning knowledge,” he said. “You develop a sixth sense based on your experience. That allows you to more accurately analyze the problems.”
When Peterson ended up having open-heart surgery 23 years ago, the roles were reversed, and he discovered what it was like to be the patient.
“One of the reasons I decided to retire,” he said, “was because I was in my 70s and 20-some years out of the bypass operation. I didn’t have the energy I once had. The young people coming into medicine were qualified to take over.
“One of my major goals was to see that our outreach practice in Waupaca was adequately covered. When I recruited enough people and felt it would be well-covered, then I felt comfortable I could walk away.”
There is no question that if Peterson had to do it all over again, he would again choose to practice cardiology.
“It was fun and a challenge,” he said. “My daughter is a cardiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and she’s married to a cardiologist, so we have wonderful family conversations.”
Peterson said he tried to convey in this book how difficult it was to go from high school to college and then to medical school, which was followed by a residency, internship and fellowship.
Heartfelt Journey – A Cardiologist’s Memoirs is $18.95 and is available locally.
In Waupaca, it is for sale at Dragonwings, Book World and at Three Squares Restaurant. Copies are also being sold at the IGA in Iola and in the gift shop at Appleton Medical Center. For ordering information, email SRoseClear@aol.com.
There are also copies of the books at the public libraries in Scandinavia and Waupaca.
Peterson hopes his story inspires others to write theirs.
“I think more people should take time to write down their life experiences for their families,” he said. “I’m very pleased with my journey.”