It’s been a melancholy morning: Cloudy sky, falling leaves, flowers in the pots on their very last legs, snoozing beagle perhaps on her last legs, me with the flu.
But now the sun is out and life is brighter. The leaves are falling golden now. The beagle’s slumber is a healing sleep. The herbs, perhaps, are making her well. The Father’s loving-kindness abounds.
I’ve been thinking lately about unexpected losses. Things that come up in your fifties that are not on your radar in your twenties, thirties or forties.
Things like losing a trusted doctor.
I’ve encountered three really good doctors in my life. By really good I mean really caring. I’m sure many have been really smart, but only three showed they really cared.
In college I dated a wrestler. He came to Michigan State University from a suburb of Cleveland to wrestle under the coaching of Grady Peninger.
I became sick one summer weekend while visiting the wrestler at his home in Ohio. The wrestler called his doctor, the doctor opened up his office in downtown Cleveland just to see me.
He drew blood and looked at it under a microscope. He called me over, had me look and explained what I was seeing.
He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I fibbed and gave him the money-making type of answer that I thought adults who asked that question expected.
And then I told him I what I really wanted to do.
“Do what you love and the money will come,” he said.
I’ve quoted him often since then.
After quite a long visit he said he better get going before his wife started calling, they were due at his granddaughter’s birthday party.
He was clearly doing what he loved.
That one and only meeting was enough to induct Dr. Morris into my Hall of Fame.
I went to Dr. Ferguson because I had a respiratory infection, his office was close and he took the insurance I had back then. I didn’t know, when I made the appointment, that he was an internist who specialized in gastroenterology.
I could barely keep my head up in his waiting room, even started to doze off. When the nurse called me in I felt guilty for exposing her to my germs. “That’s what we’re here for,” she said with reassuring kindness.
Dr. Ferguson looked at my blood, too. Then he sat next to me on the sofa in his office and explained what he saw. He prescribed an antibiotic and then sent me to the hospital for an x-ray just in case…
When I went back for the follow up (yep, a doc who actually followed up) I mentioned a pain in my abdomen. He asked if I’d ever had a colonoscopy and that’s when I realized he had a specialty.
I only saw him twice after that – both times for a colonoscopy – but the way he took time to explain things and draw diagrams, the way the nurses at the hospital raved about him and said he used the really good anesthesia, they way he seemed to really care about my health made him my second inductee.
Up until a few weeks ago Dr. Migdal was my gynecologist. It’s not TMI, it’s a fact.
I didn’t see him much more than once a year but I loved him.
I became his patient 15 years ago. I knew Dr. Migdal cared, not so much by the things he said to me as by the things he said about others. He didn’t name names or give any identifying information, he just shared general concern about patients who needed specific tests yet their insurance companies wouldn’t approve them. I often wished, listening to him, that I had a lot of dough, so I could start a fund for the patients he seemed to care so much about.
Once he expressed concern for a young woman who went into very early menopause, another time for a woman who discovered she was pregnant at 50. He never violated confidentiality, he just showed his heart. He lamented that when he was a young obstetrician he would get called in the middle of the night informing him that a patient was in labor. He counted it a privilege to get out of bed and go immediately to the hospital. Now, he said, obstetricians are not allowed to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, even those who want to. Regulations. He was grieved by all the new regulations.
Medicine is no longer an art. It’s no longer a science. It’s big business.
And Hall of Fame docs are becoming rare.
The last time I was in his office I asked Dr. Migdal his age. I didn’t say so, but I was hoping he was younger than me. Because I had often thought that if I ever got cancer like my sister did, I would want him to be the one to walk me through it.
He happily answered. Turns out he is a few years older than me.
“You’re not planning to retire any time soon, are you?”
He assured me he wasn’t. But he would be having hip surgery.
It was an unexpected, yet dreaded, loss.
I read the letter and cried. Dr. Migdal’s recovery from hip surgery was not going as well as he had hoped. He was retiring, effective immediately.
I’ve never been one to cry over change. In my twenties, thirties and forties, I would have taken the letter in stride. Oh well, I would have shrugged, there are plenty of docs in the sea.
But in autumn, when leaves are falling all around you, you begin to feel vulnerable. You begin to not only appreciate a good doctor, you feel the need for one.
Since I received his letter 3 weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to send him a note. I want to tell him that he is inductee three in my Hall of Fame, that he’s up there with the greats. I guess this post is the rough draft.
Thank you for caring, Dr. Migdal. I’ll always have The Great Physician, but I wanted you for the duration, too.