In order to be with my Dad, after dinner I’d go on house calls with him. We’d drive to parts of town I’d never seen, and using the car’s spotlight we’d search out the right house number, often with no small difficulty. I’d usually wait in the car. He hefted up his rather large mysterious black doctor’s bag and headed for the door. He spent about a half hour listening and examining the patient. On return, I always asked him if he gave the patient a “shot.” Sometimes he did – a diuretic, or B12. Sometimes it was cortisone into an inflamed joint. Once he explained to me that when washing his hands in the patient’s bathroom, that he’d occasionally peek into the medicine cabinet to find out what array of medicines the patient might really be taking.
Dad loved doing obstetrics so we’d have to plan family vacations around his patients’ due dates. He said he really felt his age when he was delivering babies from those who he delivered some 20 years previously. Then he would follow the kids along handling their routine care and even being there to give open drop ether for their tonsillectomies. Polio was the big fear during the summer epidemics.
During dinner time, Mom was very protective of Dad’s time for the meal. She handled fevers over the phone, walked patients through the care of scrapes and cuts, and would tell white lies, “I’m sorry he’s not home yet. I’m sure he can call you back in a half hour.” When it was turning into an emergency, she’d say, “Oh, his car just turned into the driveway, hang on.” Needless to say, we all learned to eat fast.
We lived a middle class existence in a comfortable but far from fancy house in our mid-west city. Dad’s friends were specialists who had fancier homes and cars. He finally had funds to join a golf club in his later years, but Mom refused to eat there because of the club’s racial and religious discriminatory practices.
As Dad aged, he decided to drop OB so his practice gradually became geriatrics and nursing home rounding. He kept this up until his mid-70’s. He’d make social calls for his patient’s in the hospital, go to memorial services, and even be a speaker at the request of a few families. One thing he never forgot to do was to send a letter of condolence to the families. In his 90’s he ended up in an electric wheelchair in a nursing home due to crippling spinal stenosis. Several former patients were also there. Dad would go by, chat, and pat them on the arm. He never quit making rounds.
Comment: The above stories are memories from a time gone by and may seem impossibly old-school. But have we lost something in our transition to high-tech care? Can we find ways to rekindle high-touch care and learn some lessons from the past?
Jim deMaine is a pulmonary physician who blogs at End of Life – thoughts from an MD.