The moving story of the last months of Col. Wesley Fox and his doctor who went “above and beyond the call of duty.”
Honor is a very beautiful word that is used a lot but seldom really defined. Catholic thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira once defined honor as a virtue whereby one seeks those things that are ever more excellent and uplifting.
His short definition helps us see that honor is related to excellence and can be found in those who strive to be the best at what they do. Such was the case with Dr. Victor Test, the pulmonologist who cared for Col. Wesley Fox during his final illness.
Col. Fox was a forty-three-year marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient who was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis: a sickness that leaves the patient gasping for breath. His illness took away his ability to work in his yard and carry out the active life he had been accustomed to since boyhood. However, the psychological torment of fighting for air was a greater suffering. His wife Dotti Lu also suffered from seeing the man she had spent fifty-six years of her life with, slowly reaching his end.
The Foxes had been making regular trips from their home in Blacksburg, Virginia to Duke Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina for treatment. At a certain point, Col. Fox’s health deteriorated to such a point that the three-hour drive was becoming unbearable. That is when Dr. Test, did something extraordinary.
The Longest House Call in History
One day, Col. Fox was physically unable to make a scheduled appointment. Dotti Lu was thus forced to call the office in order to reschedule. She was surprised by the return call later that day.
“Do not try to bring Col. Fox to me,” Dr. Test said, “I will come to him.” After his last patient visit on that appointed day, he made the six-hour round-trip drive to the Blacksburg home to examine Col. Fox.
He turned out to be exactly what the Foxes needed. Someone who the Foxes’ daughter Dixie described as “an angel.” He was a doctor who sought the same level of excellence in the medical field as Col. Fox displayed on the battlefield. More importantly, he was someone who not only took care of his patient’s physical needs, he also became something of a counselor who prepared this weary couple for what lay ahead. This is what he did on yet another long-distance house call six days before Col. Fox passed away.
This was a more painful visit for everyone involved because Dr. Test realized he had done everything in his power to cure a man he had grown to admire. However, he knew that a marine who had spent forty-three years in the Corps and endured wars in Korea and Vietnam, could take the truth. He thus informed Col. Fox, in a straightforward way, that there was nothing more he could do for him. His main motivation for making this second trip to the Fox home was because he felt this was something that had to be told in person.
What impressed Mrs. Fox the most was how he did it. She choked back tears as she described the way he “spoke very lovingly and caringly” with her husband and told him that he was at the end and needed to prepare. She then described how the two of them continued talking about a variety of things. She even recalled her husband jokingly tell the doctor, “I still think I can still mow the lawn with the smaller machine.” They both laughed but Dr. Test assured him that it would not be possible.
Doctor Honors Colonel From Afar
Col. Wesley Fox passed away on November 24, 2017 and was finally laid to rest on April 17, 2018 at Arlington National Cemetery. It was done with the dignity and beauty that is a trademark of the Marine Corps. Dr. Test had wanted to attend but was not able to make it. Since we had communicated for the purpose of this article, I had hoped to meet him in person. He expressed his regrets in an e-mail.
“I am saddened,” he said, “but I know that the Colonel would want me to honor my previous commitments.” He then explained how, from afar, he took measures to live up to the compliment Col. Fox once paid him. “You did not wear the uniform,” he told Dr. Test, “but you are a Marine.” This was due in large part to the good doctor’s large stature, shined shoes and close-cut hair. He thus concluded his e-mail: “I did get my ‘inspection haircut’ so that I can be squared away on Tuesday in honor of the Colonel.”
For the Love of Honor
Why do stories like this bring us such consolation? It is because we realize that Dr. Test is not just a competent doctor with a cushy job and comfortable salary. He is someone who is serious about being a doctor and is willing to go, as Col. Wesley Fox did on numerous occasions, “above and beyond the call of duty.” The selfless attitude of these men who seek out excellence stands in stark contrast to the mediocrity and opportunism that rules our days with the “what’s in it for me” mentality.
We should therefore take consolation in knowing that there are still outstanding examples of honor that inspire and oxygenate our tired souls. In the face of such examples, our obligation is not only to appreciate what we see but, more importantly, imitate them.
This is exactly what Dr. Test has done after coming to know this great marine. In an e-mail I received from him as this article was about to be published, he wrote: “I only knew him a short time but he has made me a better person and physician. I will think of him and sometimes think, ‘How would the Colonel manage this issue?’ Or, ‘How could I do this to earn the Colonel’s respect?’”
Now more than ever is the time to seek excellence in everything we do, so that like these two men, we can be a source of encouragement for others. We should do this not for what we might get in return, but simply for the love of honor.