It was 33 years ago in the fall, much like today, when Rod and I first met. I was expecting my first baby and my husband and I decided it would be best to deliver at the city hospital instead of the country hospital even though it was closer to where we live. So we found a city doctor. He was young and hadn’t been practicing that long, but he was highly recommended by friends, and he was a great fit for us from the beginning. His nurse, Joni, has been his side kick all these years too. They are quite a pair and they welcomed us to their team with open arms. Today, as I looked at these familiar faces and shared stories and laughter, I barely noticed the graying hair, laugh lines, and aging faces. What I did see were two people that truly cared about me, and I about them. I saw two people who had been with me through some of the highest points in my life with the birth of our children, and through the tough and sometimes scary periods of illness and hospital visits. We laughed today as we noted that in reality we all have grown up together, and upon closer examination, grown older together as well.
I have learned a lot about health and life from this kind and gentle man. I marvel at the relationship he has with his patients and the patience he exhibits with each and every one. Today he called me his friend. And the tears crept closer to the surface. It’s funny to think of your doctor as your friend when you don’t run in the same social circles, but indeed we are. We talk about the things friends talk about… our kids, the latest K-State or KU game (and yes he bleeds purple too!), about our jobs, life events, and oh yes, about whatever health issue I was having when I came to visit. He treated me, the person; not just me, the patient. One of the things driving him to retirement is that so many try to make “doctoring” a business. It’s a career focused on people, just like education is. So we have that in common as well.
We talked about the importance of having a primary care doctor who really knew you and your history. I know there is a need for the walk in prompt-care type medical clinics and the ER, but I don’t want to rely on those options for my regular medical care. I want the person treating me to know me. I want them to have a vested interest in me and care about the outcome of my health concerns. Rod calls himself a dinosaur because he does care and feels an emotional investment in his patients, contrary to what he was taught in medical school and how the corporate world would like to view medicine in general. Just like I can’t be the best teacher for a child if I am indifferent to their needs and don’t know their story, he can’t be the doctor I need without that connection as well. I guess that makes me a dinosaur too.
One of Rod’s best qualities is that he really listens. He hears what you are not saying just as well as what you are saying. He asks questions. He relates technical things in ways that are easy to understand. He makes suggestions, but he doesn’t judge you or make you feel worse than you already do. Because he listens without judgment, he makes it safe to say what needs to be said, to ask questions, and discuss options. I was at a conference this week and the presenter, Bruce Wellman, noted that we should, “Make it safe enough for others to think in your presence.” Rod invited us to share what we were thinking by his own demeanor and practice of listening first. Wouldn’t all of our relationships improve if we listened first?
Several years ago he had his own health crisis and wasn’t able to practice for a couple of years. We were shocked by his diagnosis and prayed for healing. And oh did we miss him. The other doctors that we saw during that time were nice, and took good care of us, but they just weren’t Rod. Thankfully his health was restored and he was able to return to full time practice. This time, he walks away on his own terms and while we are sad to see our friend depart, we celebrate a career that has touched so many lives. And once again I will begin the process of finding another Rod… if that is even possible. Do they even make them like him anymore?
As I drove home late this afternoon, I thought about the other times in my life where separation created these same conflicted feelings – contrasting a full heart of memories and love with an empty longing, as I try to hold on to what was. One of my closest friends moved across the country 20 years ago. I have seen her many times over the years and we remain dear, dear friends, but I was forever affected by that physical move. Even my own decision to pursue another job and to leave the school (and the people) where I taught for 28 years left a real void in my life. The friendships are still there, but things will never be quite the same. Rod’s decision to retire is no different. We often take our circumstances and the people around us for granted, because they are always there…until they are not.
Change is never easy and when I first heard about Rod’s retirement I immediately thought I needed to get an appointment scheduled so we could have one last chat – since getting sick wasn’t a guarantee or necessarily the way I wanted to see him for the last time. I’m glad I got to be a part of the final week of his practice. I can’t imagine how many times he’s said “goodbye” over the last few months to long time patients who had become old friends. As I sat in my hospital gown thinking this would his last view of me (Yikes!), I was grateful when he hugged me and slipped out of the room before the tears began to flow. I’d like to think this isn’t goodbye because we’ll see each other again in the new chapter of his life, but I’m not sure that will happen. So I’m left with the memories of him sitting and talking to me in the office, delivering my 2 kids, chatting away while he poked and prodded, always keeping me at ease no matter what the situation. I’ll remember him being Rod. And I will be grateful to have known him and benefitted from his care.
And now, my friend, go take the time for that much deserved “breath.”