What a wonderful name. Conjures up images of kings, queens, and courtly manners.
But Royal A. Schaaf wasn’t royalty. Nevertheless, he was quite a man, as a recent Google search uncovered. He was my family’s doctor when I was a child, with multiple medical talents. He removed my tonsils. He came to our home and treated me after a neighborhood kid had decided my head was a croquet ball. He gave me the smallpox vaccine during an age when everyone thought getting vaccinated was smart. He attended my father when he suffered his fatal heart attack. And he gave my wife and me a charming wedding gift of four dishes with bird design.
I saw him when something was wrong, often with years between visits.
As the decades passed, my association with doctors changed. For a blessedly long time, except for rare instances of minor illnesses, there were yearly visits. And those only for routine checkups.
During this period, I think medicine experienced an explosion of knowledge similar to what was going on in mathematics. In math, the number of different fields of study became too many for any one individual, even the most gifted, to be knowledgeable in more than a few. For many of us, staying current in one area is difficult enough. It seems medicine is facing the same reality.
When one is sufficiently young, those yearly visits usually are all that are necessary. But as one gets older and things start to happen, it doesn’t take long to learn that whatever ails you has a doctor who has survived extensive training to deal with your issue and only issues of that type.
It’s interesting that a doctor might ask, “Who is your cardiologist?” Not, “Do you have a cardiologist?” Yes, the collection of specialists you are expected to see on a regular basis does nothing but grow. And every time something new plagues you, another doctor is added to the list.
An acquaintance retired from teaching outlined his weekly schedule. He did this thing on Tuesday, that thing on Wednesday, and other specific activities on Thursday and Friday. When asked about Monday, he replied, “Oh, that’s when I see my doctors.”
My yearly visits to a single doctor have exploded to varying number of visits to a host of medical specialists. And I’m grateful for their skills, honed over multiple years of study, and dedication to preserving and improving my life.
Another thing I’ve noticed lately. There was a point when I believed many doctors had a God complex that came across as dictatorial and uncaring. Rarely these days do I run across such a person. And for the most part I wouldn’t accept it. I’ve taught calculus to enough pre-med students to know they aren’t perfect.
I’m willing to put up with more from a specialist who is unusually talented, but demand kindness, concern, and open mindedness from my family physician. But with all my specialists I don’t hesitate to speak my mind or demand answers to all my questions, a relatively new courage on my part.
I’ve found most doctors react well, and at the moment I’m pleased with all I see. An unusually large percentage of them are runners. Wonder if there’s a message there.
I am discouraged about the future of our country. If I were young, I’d consider moving to another land. But I’m not young and thus have this vast array of fine doctors. The thought of rebuilding the array somewhere else is more than enough to keep me rooted where I am.