PORTLAND — It begins with a waterman’s infected finger and moves quickly to a house call to aid a woman with one lung who was having breathing problems.
In between is Casco Bay, flowing through the book “Go by Boat,” by Peaks Island Dr. Chuck Radis.
Now being pitched to publishers, the book is the first of what Radis, an osteopath with more than 30 years’ experience, plans as a trilogy about people, nature and medical care on the city’s Casco Bay islands.
The first chapter of “Go by Boat” is now online at bit.ly/2LyiuVE.
“This was to provide historical background for some people who looked at the islands as upscale and homogeneous,” Radis, 65, said Dec. 26.
A New Jersey native who attended Bates College, Radis later studied medicine through a National Health Service Corps scholarship, which then required him to work in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area. Radis has also served in a U.N. refugee camp in Uganda and finished second in the three-person 2016 Democratic primary in state Senate District 27.
“Go by Boat” begins shortly after Radis began working at the Peaks Island Health Center. It was a time when some islands were considered “welfare islands,” because of poverty, he said.
“Since I sometimes traveled by police boat, I had plenty of time to write,” Radis said about the diaries he kept from 1985-1991. Entries were often made on the way to house calls to people who wanted no part of coming to the mainland for health care.
Years ago he got his own boat, but said the Portland Police Department was a lifeline to the islands when he began his practice.
The infected finger belonged to Bud Perry, who came into the health center seeking an immediate cure.
“Take a blade. Slice it open,” Radis recalls Perry demanding.
Eventually, Perry settled on some medications, with more coming by ferry, and promised to come back the next day.
As Perry left, so did Radis, to catch the city’s police boat for a ride to Cliff Island to help the woman with breathing difficulties. This time, he convinced her she had to be admitted to a hospital.
All it took to get the woman off the island was her sons carrying her to a boat in her recliner while trying to avoid pulling out an oxygen tube on tree limbs.
Radis has been publishing stories and articles since 1975, but “Go by Boat” is paced more like a novel. He actually began writing the book in 1995, and the interim years from the start add depth and resonance, Radis said.
“Having that extra time hopefully will give people a better sense of place. I have a lot more that ties the islands together in terms of natural history,” he said.
At the core are Perry and Johanna von Tiling, both now gone, both emblematic of the life and environment of the islands.
“They were more similar than alike, extremely outspoken, stubborn, but very much involved in their communities,” Radis said.
Johanna Von Tiling was a longtime teacher on Cliff Island. She and Perry both had significant health problems and became Radis’ friends as well as his patients.
“The good part of rewriting the book over the years was, they represented themes and characteristics of people on the island,” Radis said.
“There was a dramatic mixture of health on the islands,” Radis recalled. “Certainly there were high rates of alcoholism and drug use on one hand of the spectrum. On the other end, there were very elderly people still extremely active into their 90s and living alone.”
Dr. Chuck Radis has practiced medicine on Peaks and other Casco Bay islands for more than 30 years. He recounts his experiences and the people he met in “Go by Boat.”