Daily Sitka Sentinel
Is there more to life than a satisfying medical career, teaching at a top medical school and taking care of patients? Do I still have something to offer the world at age 55?
Should I chart a more adventurous course for my life while I’m still relatively young and healthy?
Those are some of the questions Dr. William LeMaire asked himself in 1989 when he was teaching at the University of Miami medical school in Florida. His best friend had just died at age 49 or 50, which hit LeMaire hard.
He decided that the answer to those questions was “yes.”
“We certainly did not want to wait till sickness or even early death would wipe out our many plans for ‘life after academia,’ as it happened so unfortunately for my best friend and his family,” LeMaire writes in the memoir that he has just published as an e-book.
LeMaire retired earlier than he had originally planned, and spent the next two decades traveling around the world with his wife, Anne, working as a traveling physician and volunteering in many locations, including Sitka and Anchorage in Alaska; Chiapas, Mexico; Karachi, Pakistan; and various locations in Australia, New Zealand and the Marshall Islands.
LeMaire’s self-published e-book, “Cross Culture Doctoring: On and Off the Beaten Path,” tells stories of his adventures during those years.
LeMaire said he wrote the book at the encouragement of friends, who enjoyed his stories about doctoring around the world in under-served regions.
“It was never my intent to do this, but invariably these friends would tell me: ‘Wim, why don’t you write a book about your experiences?’” he writes in the prologue.
The book costs 99 cents to download from Amazon.com, but LeMaire is turning his writing into a public service effort to raise money for a poorly funded hospital. He is asking readers to download the book for free from Smashwords.com and make a donation instead to Hospital San Carlos in Altamirano, Chiapas, Mexico. He spent four months at that facility, working with the nuns who served an impoverished Mayan population.
“I am dedicating this book to the group of Catholic nuns who run Hospital San Carlos in Altamirano, Chiapas, Mexico,” LeMaire writes in the foreword to his book. “Our experience at that hospital is described in Chapter 13. We were most impressed with their superior effort to provide medical care to the destitute Mayan population in that area under difficult circumstances and with minimal resources. Thus, rather than selling this book on line I am making it available for free and suggest that anyone downloading the book make a donation to that hospital in lieu of the usual downloading fee. Their website is: http://www.hospitalsancarlos.org.”
He said the fundraising effort has brought in some money toward the cause, but he’s hoping that more publicity will result in more funding for the hospital.
“The hospital has informed me that they have received $600 so far and for them that is a lot, but they could certainly use more,” Lemaire wrote in an email to the Sentinel recently.
LeMaire first came to Sitka in 1992 and spent seven years as an obstetrician-gynocologist at SEARHC-Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.
“I was very happy here, but I wanted to do other things,” he said.
LeMaire, known to his friends as “Wim,” has Florida as his home base, but both he and wife Anne are familiar figures in Sitka since they return regularly for him to fill in at SEARHC, most recently in July.
The book is not only a memoir but an insight into ways of life around the world, and how medicine differs from place to place. LeMaire has had to adapt to every circumstance.
LeMaire is from Antwerp, Belgium, where he met Anne when they accidentally bumped heads in a swimming pool.
The two came to the U.S. for the first time for Wim’s one-year internship following medical school. Since the Belgian hospitals don’t pay for that year, and he wanted to be able to support himself and his new wife, he decided to spend the internship year at a hospital in Schenectady, N.Y. He found he enjoyed the hands-on style of learning from experienced medical providers.
Most of the book takes place in the years after his retirement from the University of Miami, but LeMaire includes his earlier experiences taking the road less traveled. That includes his year in New York, and after that as a young doctor working in remote areas of the Belgian Congo. He took that option instead of working as an army doctor to fulfill his mandatory 18 months of military service required of all young men in Belgium.
After a brief stint in Ohio, LeMaire spent his residency in Florida, and afterward decided to make his career in the U.S., starting first in research then gravitating toward obstetrics and gynecology.
He said in an interview that delivering his son in Africa was the deciding moment for him to specialize in OB/GYN.
“That was the clincher,” he said.
He recounted the experience in the book. Anne had rejected the services of a cigar-smoking obstetrician who dripped ashes onto her pregnant belly. When she went into labor, she asked the nuns at the hospital in Ruanda-Urundi not to call the doctor, and said Wim would deliver the baby, their first son. “Delivering my own child was an exciting experience and a piece of cake,” he writes.
Other chapters of the e-book take the reader to Japan, Pakistan, Okinawa, Pakistan, Sitka, Chiapas, the Marshall Islands, the Caribbean, New Zealand and Tasmania.
He spends a chapter devoted to Sitka, describing his activities, which in addition to his medical practice include volunteering at the raptor center and his enjoyment of the community, its customs and traditions.
A photo gallery and more information about the book and author are available http://www.freewebs.com/wimsbook.