Lesson Learned (March 3)

Prognostication: “the action of foretelling or prophesying future events.”

French Creek Freddie prognosticates the weather on Groundhog Day—February 2—every year from his home at the French Creek Game Farm, now known as the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. In this modern zoological facility displaying native and introduced state wildlife, Freddie hibernates until the middle of winter when he awakens to check the weather. His duty is simple enough: come out of his burrow and look around to see if he sees his shadow.

This year Freddie did indeed see his shadow, which by Appalachian folk culture tradition means we mountaineers are in for six more weeks of winter. Having prognosticated, our local weatherman promptly returned to his bed for a long winter’s nap.

All this hoopla gave me much to ponder about prognostication. For 12 years I have served as an elected member of the Upshur County Schools Board of Education. We must decide next year’s school calendar a year in advance. Now that is quite a feat! Furthermore, for more than 50 years I have studied and or practiced medicine in the hills of West Virginia. Besides bringing comfort to the suffering—for the people doctors treat are called “patients,” from the Latin word for “those who suffer”—physicians are called upon to prognosticate.

Patients come to the doctor’s office, or in the old days we made a house call. We would listen, receiving a history of the chief complaint. Then we would perform a physical exam. Probably we would order laboratory tests. Finally, we would answer our patient’s question framed like: “Doc, is it serious? Will I live?” We are called upon to prognosticate!

From my very first West Virginia University School of Medicine Physical Diagnosis class in the Fall of 1970, I remember Dr. Ronald Sleeth, our Dean, defining prognosis: “Definitive prediction of the future course of a disease following its onset.” It involves questions such as how long the condition will last, its danger, expected discomfort, and the possibility of permanent disability, among other considerations. We doctors are to avoid being both too vague and overly certain.

After nearly 12 years serving as an elected member of the Upshur County Schools Board of Education, I can make a prognostication about the educational health and vitality of our school children:

Our children have suffered trauma from the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are resilient.

Our families are restless, transitioning from a strawberry-growing and a family farm heritage to a 21st-century lifestyle. The children are seeking firm ground, such as our 4-H Archery Club and our Future Farmers of America program.

Our children are creatively solving life challenges through strong educational programs in the arts, music and sports. Both right and left brain development means balanced and healthy growth.

Our children deserve better school buildings designed to give the best opportunity for future employability. On my watch we adult citizens came up short about 10 years apart—we did not build a modern middle school nor a modern high school. The result of failed bonds means some opportunities will pass the children by. However, “Montani Semper Liberi.” The most ambitious children will seek country roads that lead out of the state where they will excel in professions their parents never imagined.

Our children will mostly find insular lifestyles within the hills and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. Our natural wonders from forested hills to cascading waterfalls will give a quality life while serving tourists and our elderly population.

That is the way I prognosticate our children’s future. Having spent my life in the same community, I believe our best days are still ahead.


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