Primary Change

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash


It is the end of an era. I’ve gone to the same dentist practice for over 20 years. When the dentist I regularly saw retired, I already had a relationship with the other dentists in the practice, besides, I mostly saw the hygienist who didn’t change. I went to the same optometrist for 15 years, and when he retired, there were others in his practice whom my children had seen, so it didn’t feel like such a change though my loyalty is still with the one no longer there. Now, my GP – General Practitioner, for those of you who are not familiar with the term – is retiring. He started being my doctor when I moved to the Boston area and really began my life as an independent adult. I was 24, had an infection and didn’t know where to turn. A friend recommended him and gave me his number. He answered the phone himself. Even four decades ago, that was unheard of. He never got a computer, never had a nurse, and never had a secretary, though his wife helped with scheduling and messages. Otherwise, he did everything himself.


He was only unreachable when he was on vacation. I could call him whenever I needed him and could get an appointment within a few days. Last winter, I had a basic infection and needed a prescription. I called him on Saturday morning but he was out. The next day, a Sunday, he called me back and then called the pharmacy where I was in TX. The pharmacy told me they had received the Rx and I went to get my medicine, but when I got there, it wasn’t there. Here I am talking with the pharmacist, then take my phone out, call my doctor and hand the pharmacist my phone. I cannot imagine that kind of commitment to healing patients with anyone else.


My doctor is older than I and so has more experience as a professional, a father, a husband, a family man and a friend. And even though I never needed to see him in this capacity, he was also a psychiatrist. This meant that I could talk to him about anything and everything, that his experience and his expertise covered more than anyone else I’ve ever known. And yet, he had no problem referring my husband or me to see a specialist whenever he thought it was necessary or appropriate. He did this a number of times.


His office was on the side of his house. We drove through a residential area and pulled into his driveway. His wife had a beautiful garden of vegetables and flowers. Dogs roamed the lovely yard. One year, I saw him come out with a patient, excusing himself as he went, put on his coat and scarf, and walked this elderly patient out to her car.  No words were needed. He was just taking care as one human being to another does take care. His example, his calm presence, his listening and wise manner were great examples for me.


Today was my last visit. I had much to talk about and nothing to talk about. Mostly, I knew that I’d feel better about myself and that I would never ever have this opportunity again. I’ve been in mourning since I heard he was retiring a month ago. It was a shock, but not a surprise. After all, I have seen him aging. I have noticed things, as he has noticed things about me


I mourn not only our relationship, one of trust built and developed over years of testing and deepening with each other, I mourn the loss of this type of service. I know that I have been blessed with something exquisite, which I will never come across again. His is a hard act to follow.


I grew up with a GP whose office was likewise on the side of his house. He knew my extended family. He had open office hours every weekday morning and evening when anyone could stop by for whatever reason. Late morning, he would head to the hospital to see whichever of his patients were there and after lunch, if we were at home sick, we knew we’d be on his home visit rounds. He’d climb the stairs to our bedrooms and had no qualms about dispensing pills and shots, whatever was needed to mend our bodies. That doctor died while I was in college. He was the backbone of my youth. My two big memories of him are my fear of shots and how, when as a Senior Girl Scout, I was helping him with dispensing the then-new rubella umbrella, I found myself shot in the arm! He was trying to convince a little child that this new way of dispensing a vaccine, a jet injector, was painless. It worked. Neither she nor I screamed or cried. My other memories involve running to hide in his office or ducking under the covers, both to avoid the hypodermic. He didn’t care. Whatever was exposed was good enough.


Between my first and my last GP, sixty-four years have gone by and things have changed. Doctors no longer make hospital rounds. Those are left to hospitalists whom you never see again. There is little continuum of care unless you have been ill and need to see a specialist. Then you may develop a relationship there. But for the rest of us, who are genuinely regularly healthy with just a little of this or that, the yearly physical leaves little room for pondering, sharing of life moments and changes or progress in personal life. My first GP saw me from birth off to college. My second has known me longer than my husband. He has seen my children their entire lives and discussed my prenatal care and birthing with me too, even though I had an ob/gyn and midwives. I still wanted his opinion, his insights, and his suggestions. They were invaluable. He, like my first GP, had two rare commodities: availability and time. And their offices weren’t generic offices, ones you could plunk any other doctor down into. Their offices reflected them and their values. Both had toys and books for all ages. I cannot imagine either ever succumbing to allowing a television or even a sound system in their waiting rooms. Neither had long forms for patients to fill out and neither dealt with insurance forms, something that cut down on their overhead though it increased my paperwork. In both places, my personal health file encompassed pages and pages of notes from each and every visit. Most offices only keep 5 years of records now. I cannot imagine. What happens to your health history? That brutal Lyme disease10 years ago; the chicken pox at age 6? Our health care system has changed. A bit for the better and a bit not. I would have and did trust these two men with my life without question or hesitation. I will have to do that with new doctors now, but my trust won’t ever be as deep or as trustful as it has been. No one can compete with all those years of knowing, both medicine and me. All those years of experience as a medical doctor and as my medical doctor. It is the end of an era and realizing the blessing and gift of what I had, I am incredibly thankful.


Thank you, both of you, one long gone and one still enjoying life, for your dedication, your steadfastness, your reliability, your availability, your humanity and your time. You have made an incredible difference in my life and in the lives of those most important to me: my husband, and my children. Thank you.