PORTLAND, Maine — In his new memoir, “Go by Boat: Stories of a Maine Island Doctor,” Chuck Radis has a quotation from another physician: “The diseases are easy; the patients are hard.”
When Dr. Radis began serving the residents of four islands in Casco Bay (Peaks, Long, Chebeague, and Cliff) he discovered something else that was hard—just getting around. He spent about eleven hours of every workweek riding on a ferry, going from one island to another to make housecalls. Many of the islanders had no interest in traveling to Portland for medical care.
“I would meet people who would see me at the clinic,” he recalls, “who would say, ‘I haven’t been over to this side of the island for ten years.’ “ It’s worth pointing out that one can drive the length of Peaks in about five minutes.
Before long Radis settled into the rhythm of island life and came to have great affection for his patients, a warmth comes through in his book. “Surgeons do a lot of writing,” he notes, and they tend to emphasize their steely nerves and the high-stakes, life-and-death drama of their work. That was not the kind of story he wanted to tell; his aim was to capture the islanders’ everyday determination and pluck.
“I wanted to show how people adapt and sometimes overcome big challenges,” he says. “Knowing these people for a long time, I wanted to show that side of resilience.”