Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane, co-author Rainy Day Thought, where they write about experiences, ideas, nature, creativity, and culture. The latter might appear at times political, but we will try to avoid partisanship to speak to the broader issues that impact a culture. This is just too important a time not to sometimes speak to problems that impact society. As she and I do, readers will find we often disagree and have for over 50 years-- still able to be close friends. You can do that if you can be agreeable that we share more than not despite the difference.

Diane posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments, relating to the topic, are welcome as it turns an article into a discussion, but must be in English, with no profanity, hate-filled comments, or links (unless pre-approved).

Fantasy, the painting by Diane Widler Wenzel, cropped a little to fit the needs of a banner.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

by Diane: I just realized my childhood doctor had the same Jewish principle as health care doctors on my father's side

I didn't see him as being Jewish, even when I had been his patient for years. The last time I saw Dr. Burnham I was 15. When I was 15 my parents and I moved from Berkeley, California to Portland, Oregon.

     In the 1940's my parents took me to Dr. Burnham Junior.  His office was upstairs above a street level pharmacy.  The art-deco waiting room was worn and past its prime. In places the wall paper was peeling. No Highlight Magazines or child's corner! I was drawn to the window watching students come and go through the University of California's Sather Gate on Band Croft Avenue. How ideal would it be for me to join them and read books outdoors under a shady tree someday?
    When I wasn't watching out the window, I studied the bold large tropical leaf wall paper on the opposite wall.  

      Dr. Burnham's Jr.'s office appeared to be his home inherited from his father's practice. His father was likely a Jewish, Yiddish speaking German immigrant. I remember my parents talking about the doctor's marital status but I didn't pay attention to the details. I saw no sign of his wife or children.

     The hominess of the medical office was complete - no reception office counter.  No-co-pays! No pay before service. The nurse welcomed us as soon as she was available. Her dress was one of the few sign that the home was a medical practice. Her uniform included a fascinating intricate starched cap, an immaculate white dress and white stockings and shoes. 

     When the patient before us was finished, the doctor showed the elderly patient bent over a cane to the elevator and then showed us to the grand room like a ball room in my childhood memory of sizes.  He was dressed in a suit covered with a white lab coat. Some details of the exam room were interesting enough for me to remember like an impressive collection of leather covered medical text books on shelves.  This was not a library. No doubt it was a doctor visit room because of the scent of rubbing alcohol and mercurochrome.  There was an exam table and tools on a cart.  There was a large glass container of cotton balls and another smaller container of tongue depressors. When needed, the nurse brought in the freshly sterilized hypodermic needles in a stainless steel container. By the door was a large black doctor's bag that showed wear and tear of many house calls. Also in the room were glass cases and shelves with bottles and boxes. The most memorable surgical tools were the scalpels. I don't remember him using his desk. He must have had a desk because I remember the lamp with the horizontal  kelly green glass shade and pull chain like the ones I had seen  in libraries. He sat in an easy chair with pencil and pad across from my mother and I where we sat together on a coach.

      For what seemed much too long my mother and doctor in a relaxed conversation talked about my symptoms no matter how insignificant. I cringe still remembering that strangers in the waiting room could hear every word. Yet, the doctor would get an almost whole view of our life – of course missing my input. children or seen but not heard.

     Dr. Burnham made as many as three house calls a day to keep me from having to go to a hospital when I had a high fever. He knew us like he was our neighbor.

        At the end of one memorable consultation when I was ten years old, he told my mother that I had cavities in my molars and they needed to be filled soon.  He boldly criticized my orthodontic braces. My teeth could not be straightened because there was simply not enough room for all my teeth.  Some teeth had to be pulled to have a success. His words that day remain in my memory because my parents did not heed them. Dr. Burnham Jr. was correct. My teeth are becoming more and more crooked.
       Looking back some aspects of Dr. Burnham's practice I truly miss. He probably billed his patients according to what they could pay. Though he was an authoritarian type, he healed through being theatrical. He had great faith in the body to heal if we would be just patient. He was not afraid to speak the truth.  I miss the personal involvement and caring that he expressed despite his outdated attitude that children should be present but not heard. Maybe worse is today's medical practices that protect the doctor from direct contact with the patient. Too many people and too few doctors. The primary care professional  deligates responsibility so many steps away from the patient, that the patient gets answers third hand.
      We did not have to deal with health insurance.  His biggest expense would have been just payroll for a nurse.  Most of his patients were his father's aging patients. He didn't care to make money beyond what he needed to live. He proved practicing medicine can be practiced as an art as opposed to practicing programed technology with minimal oportunity for heart felt connection. This history proves to me that we could have a more humane and less expensive health care whether we go with single payer medicare for all or less government involvement. Living the Jewish principle of repairing the world in his case through medical paractice could be more rewarding to a doctor than money. From what I know of the health care providers on my father's side the Jewish principle endures longer than observance.



Tabor said...

The past always sounds so romantic. My relationship with doctors was not so charming, but they did cure me when I was a child. I agree that profit margins can destroy health care. Profit margins destroy prison and universities as well.

Rain Trueax said...

I was not in doctors much as a child but did have my tonsils out; so must have had some health issue-- although their removal was a lot more common then. I remember the clinic, with very little equipment versus what they have today. When we first got married, we didn't have a doctor but then moved back to Oregon and went to the one my husband's family had gone to. He was in Lake Oswego, old time doctor who had built his own clinic himself. If someone needed more testing, they had to go to to a hospital as he had only an x-ray machine in the office. I liked him a lot.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

We didn't have health insurance but our expenses were somewhat covered because both doctor bills, medications and even the taxi trips to and from the doctors were deductable.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Tabor and Rain,
Thank you for your comments. I didn't realize I was having a charming doctor/ patient relationship. It was not perfect by any means.
Rain, when we were young tonsils were removed right after the first infection. I am happy for your healthy childhood.
Dr. Burnham did not have an x-ray machine because I remember going somewhere else for that. He did draw blood. Usually just a prick on the finger and he put it on a slide.

Rain Trueax said...

I don't think my parents had health insurance-- although Dad was in a union; so might've had more than I knew. Clinics had such little stuff they could use for health issues back then-- part of our cost today is all the improvements. My dad died of a heart attack at 70 because of the lack of so many things we can take today to reduce the risks (maybe with side effects).

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

In the 40's and early 50's my parents did not have health insurance. Later they did. I dont' know when General Motors Frigidaire started giving their saleried employes insurance. We also lived across the street from an insurance salesman when we moved to Portland in 1958.

When my mother and father started seeing Dr. Burnham Sr. during the depression, as students they likely did not have insurance.

Government and insurance have strings attatched to health care. I am imagining a science fiction health care system with neither for my next blog.

Rain Trueax said...

Ranch Boss told me that the doctor we saw in Lake Oswego was also Jewish. Interesting given the similarly built office and his approach to medicine. I never knew but then I rarely notice people's ethnicity or recognize what it is if it's different than my own.