Legacy

ImageI remember him just like this.

Rumpled of shirt, thin of hair, stethoscope around his neck, funky tie. More likely, since it was the sixties and he practiced in a little north Georgia mill village, the shirt was white and there was a pocket protector involved. No matter. The feeling that I get when I think about my old family doctor is positive, full of gratitude and brimming with good will.

Dr. Dawson was around as long as I can remember. His office was just across the wide expanse of green grass and magnolia trees that stretched from my little brick house on First Street to the facade of the big textile mill where my father was a superintendent. Around the common, turn right, park in front, walk back a little ways towards some low buildings, and you’d find the doc.

Time has erased most of the details, but once again the overwhelming memory is of my doctor’s always being there. Being available to me and my family. Knowing us as people. Caring about us as part of the little microcosm that was a mill village in the 1960s in the southern United States.

Dr. Dawson gave me injections. He wrote out prescriptions for antibiotics when I was sick. He was even there for the times that my brother and my best friend and I would climb the mimosa trees in my backyard and experience the simple joys and heart-stopping accidents that made up an almost idyllic southern childhood. One of those times, if memory serves, involved dropping a hammer from my perch in the fern-leafed tree, straight down, only to be stopped by my brother’s forehead before it got to the ground. I thought I had killed him.

I have long since moved on from that little village of my childhood. Santa Claus no longer bobs up and down out of his chimney in front of my bedroom window at Christmastime. I no longer chase my friends around the common space, lobbing magnolia seed pod grenades at them in mock war. I no longer swim in the pool down the hill during the summer. As a matter of fact, the pool is gone, long since filled in with dirt, not even leaving a faint marker for itself except somewhere deep in the gyri of my brain.

My old family doctor is gone, too. Gone from the village office he occupied for many years. Gone from this earth.

Not gone, never gone, from my memory though. I still see him, I still feel him, as one of the people who shaped my childhood, subtly, quietly, purposefully, making sure I was healthy and happy and shepherding me through illnesses mild and worse. He left a legacy of good health. He did much good while he was on this earth.

I often wonder what my own legacy will be to my patients, my children, my grandchildren, my friends.

I hope I will have done some good.

I hope I will have made a difference.

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8 thoughts on “Legacy

  1. Dr. Dawson’s legacy lives on. I remember his office being the place you could go anytime to get treatment. Just walk in and tell the nurse your problem and you would see Dr. Dawson shortly. Wait your turn, of course. Never to be rich or famous, he made a difference to everybody in our community. Those were the “good old days”. His caring is his legacy. Thanks for making us think about that.

  2. Many of us remember a “Dr. Dawson” in our own childhood – ours was Dr. Zaritsky, who practiced low-tech but high touch ‘hands-on’ medicine, who made housecalls when we were too sick to make it downtown to his little office, who visited my mother in the hospital, who showed up at family funerals to pay his respects. Such dedication to his profession is now considered dinosaur behaviour. What it actually was was devotion to something called “relationships”. Thank you for this lovely essay.

  3. You hit another “home run” with this piece, Greg! Beautifully written about a unique gentleman who truly cared about those who came to him. I remember the jokes that students at the “old school,” (where I began my career on Monday, October 12, 1963) often made about Dr. Dawson’s most valued prescription: “Take 2 aspirin, get some sleep, and go back to school tomorrow.” I thought it was great!
    Sometimes, would you agree, we just need to follow that advice just as it stands.
    TAKE A PILL….CHILL…GET BACK TO WORK!
    Works for me when I take the time to remember it. Sadly, I usually forget that old standard and just keep on “truckin’ ” when I should stop, rest, regroup, and then move on again.
    Thanks for reminding us of the simplicity of some of the best remedies and the true beauty of life in a much simpler time.
    Hugs, Ms B.

  4. Thank you for your tribute. I think that was when doctorship was at it’s last gasp. Mine was in Los Angeles on a 4 lane hiway. When he was dying of cancer, he conned a Rodeo Drive doctor to relocate to make sure there was a doctor up to his standards to care for us, his patients. These men bragged about how many Caddies they wrapped around telephone poles, while rushing to someone’s house for an emergency, like an early birth.
    Back to Dr. George Starr. His cigar was lit 24/7 and he waved it in your face during the consult. Really rumpled, heavy, but he was light enough to run with a hypo to catch a child that hated shots. He was forced by the law to practice until he couldn’t stand. He had his veterinarian’s diploma, and wandered over to the medical school to see if his cousins had passed. A motorcycle cop was tooling on the campus and hit water. His head landed on a curb and blood was gushing. My doctor made the mistake of going down and applying pressure to stop the gushing blood. Of course the cop had severe brain damage, and his wife sued the university and my doctor. The defense was that a veterinarian was more capable than a medical doctor, so the judge ordered that the vet become a doctor-and the university provide free medical training. Dr. Starr made sure that training would be available for the rest of his life. If he ever stopped human medical practice, he had to pay the woman a million dollars, plus interest. He thought that the wife would die in a few years. She lived into her 90s, about a year before the cancer got my doctor. To slow his practice down, he got rid of the receptionists and nurses, because he wasn’t going down until the old woman died. Our family walked in, but we usually made an appointment.

    He was a specialist in everything, because he’d take sabbaticals at the university, and learn a new specialty and keep updated in something else. He would come back with a glow from living in a dorm and partying with the kids, and teaching them what he knew. Every time he did that, the old woman hounded him with lawsuits, trying to get money from him. As he aged, and he got cancer, he stopped doing surgery and mainly kept his hand in as an anesthesiologist. He had privileges at Mt Sinai, and every hospital in South Los Angeles.
    I proudly tell my modern doctors that I was cared for by a veterinarian-he was also an MD and a DO. I sat in a waiting room with movie stars, maids, sailors, if you wanted good care-you went to Dr. Starr. He took care of me from when I was 2 years old until I was 13.

  5. WOW! How well I remember Dr. Dawson’s standard, “Take 2 aspirin; get some sleep; go back to school tomorrow.” Though students often chuckled about it, Dr. Dawson knew what most of us often need.
    TAKE A PILL…CHILL…GO BACK TO WORK.
    His was a prescription that really did follow the slogan we hear so often:
    SIMPLE, EFFECTIVE, NON-HABIT FORMING. (But it should be.)
    Perhaps we should return to the “simple” life and “effective” directions with the hope that they could become “habit forming.”
    Hugs, Ms B

  6. Greg,

    What a sweet tribute to the man who cared for the entire community. An accurate portrayal of the family doc…Dr. Dawson. You describe him perfectly. Even though the mill, the pool & even Dr. Dawson’s office are all now things that reside in the memories of us, the members of the Shannon community, his legacy absolutely lives on. It’s because of his great compassion, his ability to communicate with anyone that walked into his office, his marvelous sense of humor, and his no-nonsense manner of practicing medicine. He reminds me of the old doc in the movie “Doc Hollywood.” Maybe a bit antiquated, but his methods of treating patients were actually the best. They were personal. They were compassionate. They ARE remembered. Yours will also be remembered, my friend.

    M

  7. you make a difference to this reader way away in South Africa. You write beautifully, and your kindness shows so clearly.

  8. I am an avid reader of many blogs, particularly yours, but am an exceedlingly rare commenter. However, I would like to say that I anticipate reading your words more than I can say. I appreciate your insights and kindness, and you shed a light on many issues which directly impact my world. As a recent visitor to the ER — not for a psych consult but a broken jaw — I can relate to some of what you say. Once they saw that I was on anti-depressants and Xanax, I was treated dismissively and condescendingly. In addition to being in horrible pain, I was also made to feel quite small. So, yes, you will leave a legacy in my life. One small life, but it means a great deal to me.

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