By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Ripley’s Dr. Dwalia South dispenses wisdom and wit in her book “Una Voce.” Since 2004, South has used her “one voice” to share observations on the medical profession and the human condition with the state medical community through a column in the monthly Journal of the Mississippi Medical Association. The compilation that shares the Latin title of that monthly column also includes South’s essays that have been published in other magazines and collections.
“She is one of the most talented individuals, with her ‘way with words’ as well as analogies and being able to put often hilarious stories of everyday people together with her practice of medicine,” said Dr. J. Edward Hill, a Tupelo family physician and past president of the American Medical Association. “In addition, (she is) an extremely excellent and compassionate physician and person.”
But you don’t have to be an MD to appreciate the funny things patients say, the frustration over 10-minute office visits or the sorrow at burying a brother, a great-nephew and two husbands over the years.
“I tend to write so anybody who picks up a copy in the waiting room could understand it,” said South, who has practiced medicine for more than 30 years and served as the president of the Mississippi State Medical Association in 2007-08.
The idea for the book of columns was born when she was on the other side of the stethoscope, battling cancer of a salivary gland.
“Among those bargaining prayers, repentant thoughts and scenes of dread that fast-forwarded through my inward eye was this … ‘But, please God, I was going to write a book some day, and now my life is already over!’” she writes.
Her colleague, friend and fellow writer, Dr. Scott Anderson, a Meridian radiation oncologist, provided the spark, pointing out South had already written everything she needed for a book – the Una Voce columns. Anderson helped edit the columns and even provided the artwork – “A Voice in the Rain” for the cover.
South’s adventures as a family medicine physician, coroner and member of the Mississippi State Medical Association stretch from the most humble hollows of Tippah County to Washington, D.C., medical meetings.
One of her favorites, “Bless Cloth,” shares a lesson a young Dr. South learned about respecting patients’ beliefs and defending their dignity.
“It was published in the JAMA – the American Medical Association national publication – and it is very difficult to get published in there, so it was a milestone for me,” she said.
Medicine has its own language, and the translation errors between medical jargon and every day English provide laugh-out-loud moments.
“You can’t make up things that are as funny as what people say,” South said.
Two of South’s laugh-out-loud columns come from translating her patients chief medical complaints.
“I had that light run down my throat and that rod run up my butt and they said they found pollacks on my colon. What is that exactly?” one patient asked her.
“If I have gallstones, I want to get that lap-top surgery,” said another patient, who was apparently inquiring about the minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, not the surgeon’s personal computer.
South tells tales on herself, too, – her grouchy reaction when the office staff rearranges the clinic while she’s at a conference and her rocky start as a grandma-to-be.
There are poignant observations, too.
“Patients and their families teach us to accept the hand we are dealt and to play it the best way we can … I’ve come to understand that truly caring for our patients is the sum and substance of what doctors are put on this earth to do, and we should never lose sight of that fact.”