In awe of the healers — a doctor writes down her stories from the field

Posted in Feature

June 5, 2013

Pictured is the cover of Dr. Betsy MacGregor's book. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Pictured is the cover of Dr. Betsy MacGregor’s book. (Photos courtesy of the author)

There are certain people who have the gift of healing; for compassion so great as to be able to translate some good comfort to one who lay dying.

Such a gift is so far from my own realm of experience that it might as well be happening on the moon.  I can’t even fathom the amount of skill and poise it takes to perform that task.

Nothing I can say here will do justice to the more than 30 years of devotion that Whidbey Island resident and author Dr. Betsy MacGregor has given over, first to pediatric care in her early years and, later, to those who close in on the end of life and prepare for death’s great mystery. Luckily, there is a book.

MacGregor, who also happens to be an eloquent writer, has recorded her stories in the recently published “In Awe of Being Human: A Doctor’s Stories from the Edge of Life and Death.” Everyone is welcome to come to her book release party at Thomas Berry Hall at the Whidbey Institute at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9.

“In Awe of Being Human” weaves stories of seriously ill children and adults, who were MacGregor’s patients, with descriptions of the soul-stretching experiences that physicians and other caregivers undergo in seeking to help people whose lives are at stake. The author takes readers deep into the challenging world of hospitals and hospices, the medical professionals who work in them, and the ever-present mystery of life and death.

I will tell you here and now that, although I have read only excerpts from this book, its poignancy is pure and without triteness, and it is apparent the writer’s heart was all in during these moments. But, even better, is the doctor/author’s ability to write these moments well, as she does in this tale of a father and baby both stricken with AIDS:

The man was sitting in a chair, holding Angel on his lap and feeding him infant formula with a dropper.  As I watched, he waited carefully for his son’s lips to accept each drop before offering him another, all the while gazing into his child’s eyes and softly crooning a melody—a hauntingly soothing sound, the notes filled with reassurance and encouragement.  Angel’s eyes remained fastened in turn on his father’s face, as if he were drinking in life-giving nourishment from the look that he saw there.

The two of them were in such a rapt communion that I remained bound in unmoving silence outside their door.  It seemed that I had been summoned not to enter, but to stand as an observer of this exquisite scene, witness to an act of meaning that lay beyond my mind’s measuring.

Humanitarians, Dr. Betsy MacGregor and Charles Terry, are residents of Langley.

Humanitarians, Dr. Betsy MacGregor and Charles Terry, are residents of Langley.

In the book’s prologue, MacGregor writes about the privilege of being able to chart the human journey:

For nearly thirty years, most of them spent working at a major medical center in New York City, I witnessed a great many such stories, far more, in fact, than I can possibly remember. And still, there are more than enough that I will never forget, fierce and tender ones that carved out a permanent niche in the marrow of my bones, and these I feel compelled to share. 

The stories span the arc of the human journey from the beginning to the very end

Now retired from medical practice, MacGregor lives with her husband, Charles Terry, on the island and spends her time as a writer, and speaker (you may have seen her speak at the 2012 Women of Whidbey event at WICA). She is a founding Board Member of Enso House, a local hospice-home that provides compassionate, holistic care for terminally ill patients and their families. MacGregor and Terry are also supporters of the MLISADA Orphanage in Uganda, which they stumbled upon while doing humanitarian work there in 2009. From that experience, they created the foundation “Seeds for Hope” to provide grants to orphanages and grassroots community projects in Africa and elsewhere.

At the book release celebration for “In Awe of Being Human,” MacGregor will read from the  book and hold a book sale ($15) and signing. There will also be musical performances by “Sisters,” an a cappella trio featuring Julie Glover, Dawna Fowler and Melanie Bacon, and more music by Rick Ingracsi, Charlotte Whyte and Alyssa Woodbury. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

“In Awe of Being Human” was published by Abiding Nowhere Press in Greenbank and is available on MacGregor’s website,  and at Amazon.

Thomas Berry Hall is at 6449 Old Pietila Road in Clinton.

(Pictured at top, Dr. MacGregor in an operating room with colleagues.)


Patricia Duff is a freelance writer, journalist and the editor of this magazine.

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