I read Husband a story this morning from the paper that cemented the end of another era in my memory, that of the doctor who makes house calls. The piece was about the passing of an 84-year-old area physician who conducted a successful medical practice for 61 years. He took no insurance beside Medicare, visited his patients at their bedside, and delivered babies who grew up to bring their own babies to him. The article was accompanied by a picture of the doctor in his later years walking down a street carrying his black medical bag, a design that Louis Vuitton copied long ago and will sell to you for about $1,800, stethoscope not included.
Both Husband and I are in our fifties and can easily recall childhood memories of being visited by doctors in our bedrooms. My pediatrician was a Dr. Meyerson, the scariest person I had ever seen. He was about six-and-a-half feet tall with a pencil mustache and a deep, booming voice. He filled the doorway of our Brooklyn housing project apartment, and I can still see my average-height mother looking up at him as she answered the door with her head tilted so far back I could see the part at the top of her hair.
As soon as I saw him I would always scream, “Did he bring his bag?!” because I knew that bag had a needle in it that was bound to wind up in my butt cheek. Looking back it was a crazy thing to scream out because OF COURSE he brought his bag, why else would he be there, but it strikes me as a classic moment of childhood magical thinking. If he had no bag, I got no shot.
My mom was intuitive and wonderful and never, ever lied to me. So one time when I was about five and had a horrible sore throat and high fever, I begged my mother not to call Dr. Meyerson so desperately that she said okay, she wouldn’t call him. I said Promise? and she said Promise. I lay there in my misery at least knowing there would be no terrifying, deep-voiced giant with a needle in my future.
Sometime that day the doorbell rang and from where I lay on the living room couch swaddled in blankets I saw my mother’s head tilt back as she opened the door, and the feeling of hot betrayal mixed with hot fever filled my senses with such a rush that I can close my eyes and still remember the anger and fear that welled up in my little girl brain. I screamed and cried the whole time the doctor was there and yelled bloody murder when he pushed his needle into my little girl butt. It was the first and only time in my life that I thought I might hate my mother.
She apologized through her own tears after he left and swore she would never lie like that to me again. After having two children of my own I can understand the depth of her worry for a child so sick that she needed a house call, and I appreciate the conflicted judgment call she felt she had to make. And certainly a lifetime of love and caring without further transgression should obliterate this memory, but here it is, still around.
After sharing it with Husband, I said, “I wonder if either of my kids have a memory like that of me that I don’t know about. Maybe I’ll ask them.”
Husband looked at me in total disbelief. “Why in the world would you go looking for that kind of pain?”
He’s right, of course. I hope I don’t ask.
Daughter’s Featured Fotos offer More Winter Views and a shout-out to Bobby’s Band