Professional Duty

Steve Russell
8 min readJun 5, 2019
Photo by on Unsplash

Notes From One Front in the War on Alzheimer’s Disease

Still in the flush of coming from rural poverty in Oklahoma and graduating a top ten law school, I held the naïve view of the professions that the years of study are not for the purpose of personal gain. I was doing the prep work on a nasty child abuse case, the kind of work that the lawyers in the bank towers with carpet on the floor hire done — chasing down witnesses.

My immediate goal was to collect an affidavit from the pediatrician who had reported the abuse, as all persons — -professional or not — -are required to do in Texas. I found his office situated between the primary charity hospital serving metro San Antonio and the barrio where most of the patients lived.

He had a woman tasked with paperwork and gatekeeping much like a law office, but her work area was smaller — -just a desk with the state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter. When I stated my business, she smiled and said the doctor was “on rounds” but would be back momentarily and I should wait.

She showed me where I should wait and it turned out to be the doctor’s private office. As she closed the door I sank into one of the comfortable chairs facing the desk, pulled out my case file, and put my fine leather briefcase — a graduation gift from my wife — -on the floor.

A frisson of fear and doubt gripped me when I saw a document on the wall dressed up to look like a major prize among all the doctor’s degrees and certifications. It read in bold letters:

The next time you get sick, call a lawyer.

I had strong feelings about the difference between a profession and a job. To be a licensed professional is an honor that carries a duty to help that is optional for others. Hostility between the professions was an aberration I knew of but had not yet encountered. The ink was not dry on my law license and I was on a mission to save a child but…

The noise that interrupted my mental turmoil was the doctor entering his office in a white garment I can’t call a coat because this was San Antonio, where coats are rare. I took it to be his doctor uniform and he was shedding it as he entered. He hung it on a hook next to some jackets. Under the white garment was a short-sleeved dress shirt like mine and a necktie…

Steve Russell

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)