I miss the relative simplicity and patient-centeredness that characterized the early years of my medical career.

One morning during my second year in practice here in central Maine, my receptionist buzzed me in the room with a patient. This usually meant an emergency, but her voice did not have that special edge that signaled stress. She told me she had a woman on the phone, calling from a local motel, asking if I was the same Peter Elias her husband lived next door to as a kid in Yonkers, New York. Judy was non-plussed. I told her to get the name and number and I’d call back between patients.

She answered promptly when I called, and apologized for ‘imposing’ but said she didn’t know what else to do.  Her husband sold and supported equipment for optometrists in New England and she and her 2 year old son were accompanying him on a sales trip. He was out making calls so she didn’t have a car, and their son had a fever and sore throat. She had planned to wait until evening when he returned, but her son was miserable and she really didn’t want to go to the Emergency Room, so she had checked the yellow pages looking for a walk-in clinic of some sort. She saw my name and remembered that her husband had talked about all the neat things he had done with a kid named Peter Elias who had lived next door, whose father was a doctor, and who had talked about becoming a doctor when he grew up. 

I told her I remembered Steve really well. He and I had shared years of childhood experimentation and adventures: we had nearly set my basement on fire with my brand new chemistry set, we had built a functioning go-cart with a Briggs-Stratton motor rescued from someone’s trash, we had strung wires between our two second-story bedrooms for a private phone system (our parents only discovered this much later when his roof developed a leak from a poorly placed nail), we had explored every residential construction site for miles, and we had explored Playboy together.

The motel was a five minute drive from my office, so during lunch I grabbed a few things and made a ‘hotel call.’  Their son was febrile (102) but not toxic, and his exam was notable for large tonsils with some exudate and some tender lymph nodes in the neck. I had brought an office strep test and his result was positive, so I called in a prescription, picked it up at the pharmacy down the block, and delivered it. When I called to check on them the next morning, he was doing ok and mom and dad were both very appreciative. It was nice to have reconnected, and though we had little in common now beyond our shared childhood memories, we exchanged Christmas cards for two decades - though our paths never crossed again.

This incident came to mind last week while my wife and I were going through the list of friends and family to whom we send Christmas cards. It would be much harder to provide the same service in today’s world, where everything requires some form of virtual computer-based validation. 


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