I didn’t always hate doctors. In fact, when I was a youngster, my favorite doctor was a surgeon. Where most kids under five have pediatricians, I guess I did too, I had a surgeon. His name was Charles Polivy; he lived to be 84 and I bet he treated all his patients with the love and care he gave me.
When I was 18-months-old, I was complaining about it hurting when I walked. My parents initially thought I
was lazy (they might have been partially right.) Eventually, they took me to a doctor, Dr. Polivy, who told them I had an inguinal hernia. Of course I had the operation and that cleared up the walking bit. I’m told, while I was in recovery, Dr. Polivy came in and asked if I wanted anything. I did, and what he heard was cherries. So, he sent everyone he could looking for same, though they were certainly out of season at the time. Not having any luck, he came back to the room and said he had done everything he could, but there were no cherries in Hartford or anywhere in Connecticut. In my little voice, I said, “Not cherries. Jerry.” I had wanted my older brother. But Dr. Polivy had moved heaven and earth trying to find cherries for his patient. That’s the kind of man he was.
Later, when I was seven, I was bitten in the face, on the nose actually, by a dog. It was an accident. My parents were out of town at a cousin’s wedding. The friends who were taking care of my brother and me, rushed me to the hospital. Someone on duty, knew I was Dr. Polivy’s patient. He was called. Connecticut is a very small state, but the good doctor was somewhere other than at home. He told the person at the hospital he would get there as soon as possible, and that “No one is to touch that child until I arrive.” No one did. I remember before he stitched up my nose that he said he was going to give me a shot (Novocain), that it would sting and I should be brave. 45 stitches later, I was as good as new. So gifted were this man’s hands that all these years later, I have to scrunch my nose for anyone to see the scar. Dr. Polivy believed he should always do the best he could, and for me, he did.
That brings me around to how I started; I didn’t always hate doctors. I remember most other doctors I came into contact with after Dr. Polivy just didn’t display the care he did. When I had to get the diphtheria-pertusis-tetanus shots as a kid, I dreaded them. The doctors or nurses, whoever plunged that needle into my arm, took no heed that 12 hours after the shot, I would come down with a temperature of 103. Religiously. I really began to dislike doctors.
It wasn’t until I was 27, when I would change my mind about doctors, if only for a short while. At the time, I was working as a photojournalist at the newspaper in Colorado Springs. I remembered W. Eugene Smith’s Life magazine story on a small town doctor in Colorado and wanted to do something similar.
It was 1979. Doctors rarely did housecalls even almost 40 years ago. I received an assignment to shoot a football game in Woodland Park, CO which is just outside the Springs. The high school had a side line physician. His name is Dr. Richard Y. Harris. The Universe was guiding me on that particular Saturday. I started a conversation with Dr. Harris. I told him I wanted to do a photo story on a doctor; particularly as small town doctor who still did housecalls. When I asked him if he knew any such doctors, Dr. Harris smiled and said, “Yup. Me!” That, as line the line Casablanca goes, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Although we put many hours into the story, for reasons I can’t now remember, it never got published. But, when I cut my finger (it had been in a car engine somewhere it didn’t belong). Dr. Harris took me to his office and stitched me up. He asked when the last time I had a tetanus shot was. It had been a very long time. I told him my problem with the high fever after those shots. He said, “That won’t happen the way I’m going to give it to you.” I asked what that meant. He said rather than plunge the needle in and give me the shot quickly, which was normal, he would give it to me very slowly. He told me we would just talk and he would give me a very slow tetanus shot. I trusted him, not something I do easily. So we talked; for I don’t remember how long, but for a while. When we got to a perceived stopping point, he said he had finished the shot about five minutes earlier. I never felt the needle go in or come out. I did not get a fever 12 hours later. Another doctor in my life who cared about how he practiced medicine.
I can only wish that were true for the doctor I’ve had here for the last 30 some odd years. He doesn’t really practice medicine. He practices the BUSINESS of medicine. He orders tests, I tell myself, because he’s afraid of being sued. One time, after a routine physical’s urine test, he found three red blood cells in the sample. At the time, I’d been on Plavix because of coronary artery disease and the follow up. Rather than think this might just be a problem with the Plavix, he ordered a test with a urologist. One of the worst, most uncomfortable tests I’ve ever had. And, in my very non-medical opinion, needless. I don’t follow his recommendations for test any more. At least a decade ago, a sign went up in his office saying he and the other doctors at his clinic would no longer visit patients in the hospital. They just didn’t think it was necessary. Like I said, the business of medicine.
About a year ago, I tried to change doctors. I called an office recommended by a friend. They, too were practicing the business of medicine. I was told I couldn’t get in for a preliminary visit for several months. Then, about the time I was to go into their office, a nurse called me to inform me the doctor had decided to take vacation at the time of our appointment and it would be several months more before I could get an initial exam. I gave up on him and just decided to ride out the time until my regular doctor retired. I don’t think it will be very long.
I’m not sure what prompted me to write about this. Maybe, it’s how much I miss doctors like Polivy and Harris. I’m not sick, except for this summer cold which seems to want to hang on. If I did know what prompted me to write, I’d say it was about the sadness I feel around doctors I know where the business is more important than the healing of persons. Of course, that’s a story I tell myself. I do believe there are other doctors like my two mentioned here. They just haven’t been in my life for the most part (there is a third, by the way, the neurosurgeon who did my cervical discectomy, also qualifies.) It saddens me so many go into the field of medicine because it’s good for their income. It saddens me my long term physicians both before and after my doctors mentioned here appear to be so uncaring. It saddens me it may be a real struggle to find another physician for the latter part of my life. So I write about both the joy and the sadness. What about you? How do you feel about the doctors who have been or continue to be in your life? Leave a comment if you would care to; I’d love to hear what you have to say.
How Am I Changing? I’m willing to tell my story for good or not. I’m willing to talk about the persons who have brought me joy and not. I’m willing to have you look, and see me. I hope you do.