I Am John H. Holliday DDS. You May Call Me Doc
by Patrick Gillen

"The West lured men and women who had a need for a fresh start, perhaps fleeing unpleasant pasts: the adventurers, soldiers, prospectors, and gamblers."

Styled as an autobiography of the well-known historical figure Doc Holliday, this fascinating work has an authentic feeling. John H. Holliday DDS migrated west in 1873 after receiving a diagnosis of tuberculosis. There was no cure for the fatal disease, only palliative measures and the observation that sufferers might live longer in a dry climate. As writer Gillen has staged it, Holliday was bent on getting lost in the vast western territories so that his loved ones would be able to forget him as he slowly faded from disease. Sometimes using an alias, he was known as a gunfighter who may have killed several men and was arrested multiple times for fighting and gambling, Holliday is most remembered for his participation with Wyatt Earp in the legendary confrontation at the O.K. Corral. Gillen pays this colorful historical scenario its full due, while also focusing intently on Holliday’s private life and especially his 13-year struggle with tuberculosis, a disease which finally claimed his life at an early age.

Gillen, a nurse practitioner, undertook a lengthy study of Holliday in part because, like Holliday, the author has a chronic debilitating disease that forced him to retire early. He knows both professionally and personally about the emotional devastation that such a diagnosis can have and relates those perceptions through the voice of Holliday. His book is a hybrid mix of historical fact and a fertile, well-centered, creative imagination. Like his central character, Gillen is a sharpshooter who presents photographs and tips for “fine tuning your gun.” He also offers bits of arcane medical knowledge throughout the book, including herbal remedies known in Holliday’s time, some of which are still used today. Undoubtedly, Gillen’s greatest homage to Holliday is the deep empathy for his hero’s physical suffering and the lonely, often conflicted lifestyle it engendered.

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