My favorite books immerse me in a different place, so that when I put the book down, I’m a little disoriented to find myself back in my living room. “Island Practice” by Pam Belluck, does this by introducing us to Dr. Timothy J. Lepore, who has been the island surgeon for decades.
Nantucket is an island 30 miles of the coast of “America”, as the Nantucketeers call the main land. In the summer, the tiny airport is crammed with Gulfstreams and KingAirs, as the rich come here to play. The rest of the year, the people are isolated by water and weather, and the local doc needs to be able to handle any emergency. Dr. Lepore, a surgeon by training, has therefore had to become a tick expert, alcoholic detoxer, and abortionist in addition to being the island emergency department and surgeon. Dr. Lepore is an old fashioned practitioner, always on call, never on vacation, never takes a drink. Because the deer population in Nantucket is higher per capita than on the mainland, and because the deer can’t easily migrate anywhere (unless they want to swim 30 miles to shore), tick borne diseases have had a chance to flourish here. Dr. Lepore’s interest in these has him examining the carcasses of all hunted (and road-killed) deer for ticks, and the locals know to call him when they bag one.
This would be a boring story if it were just about a saintly doctor in an isolated area. We’ve seen that story before. But what’s fun about this book is that Dr. Lepore is such an odd character that he would never be accepted in a more populated area. His waiting room and office are decorated extensively with is taxidermy specimens (he is an ardent hunter) and his weapons collection. His pet is a hawk, and his wife frequently finds dead animals in the kitchen sink. He is outspoken, crusty, and tactless. He is a passionate defender of the second amendment and of reproductive freedom. His hobbies have included making stone surgical instruments (which he then used in actual surgery), knitting dog hair sweaters (I confess, since getting a Golden Retriever, I have always wondered about this), and throat-singing.
What are vacation paradises like when the tourist season ends? What are the lives like of the people who live there year round? “Island Practice” is a glimpse into a side of Nantucket that few people get to see.