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.