Patients Are People, Too
The Memoirs of Trester Smith Harris, M.D.

Chapter 11
Some Doctors I Have Known

Over the course of years, one becomes well acquainted with some of the doctors who practice in the community, especially those who share the hospital surgical dressing room. There is a great variety of personalities among doctors, as among patients, so I thought it might be interesting to mention a few. One hears all kinds of stories in the dressing room, and many point to the quirk of the doctor and to the type of man he is. In working with the various men, it becomes easier to figure them out, and to learn more about them.
Some men are so quiet and unobtrusive that they attract very little attention, while others are boisterous, putting themselves so much in the limelight that they cannot be overlooked.

Dr. Bowers was one of the latter type. He was a very jolly type, and one almost always knew when he was in the hospital. He was the type that always had a joke for his patient, a slap on the back, and he made the sickness seem an evanescent thing that would always go away. Just seeing him was a good tonic for a patient. He could be serious too, when occasion demanded. His surgery was delicately done, he visited his patients frequently, and he always called to inquire concerning their condition. His patients loved him and looked forward eagerly to his coming. They always responded to his care, and I’ll consider him a very successful doctor. One time a chap told him, “Dr. Bowers, I am terribly short of money. I may have to take a long time to pay you.” The answer was, “Jim, take as long as you want. The main thing was to get you back on your feet.”

Dr. Halleck was one who specialized in internal medicine. Every patient with a temperature of 100 degrees or more had to go into the hospital, and there was always an entire page of orders. The poor patient was treated almost to death, as the saying goes. There was more medication than the human system could bear, and blood transfusions were given indiscriminately. The patient was wakened during the night for blood pressure readings, temperatures, or medication, and sleep was impossible. The ones who had enough strength and good luck to pull through so as to leave the hospital were told, “Boy you were lucky. I certainly had a time with your case, which was one in a million. “

Dr. Halleck was called to see a patient by one of the doctors about 6:00 p.m. The patient was in the hospital where he worked, but he was just getting ready to go home from the office.

“Who is this woman you want me to see?” he asked.

“A Mrs. Anderson. She is in Room 221 of the hospital. She is quite ill and I’d appreciate having you check her for me.”

“Well, you know I can’t think after 5:30 in the afternoon. I’ll see her in the morning, or maybe you’d better get another doctor.”

Dr. James McBride was a genuine old Scot. He was jolly, good natured, always ready with a laugh. He was a surgeon and a slam-bang type. He was very sure of himself, did careful work but he had a habit of taking a few drinks before he came to do his surgery. The trouble was, we did not know how few. Then to cover up the odor of alcohol on his breath, he ate a clove of garlic, and to work across the table from him with all that breathing going on was a chore itself. But he was a good old soul, and he is the one who straightened me out about the Scotch.

“There are two kinds of Scotch people,” he informed me. “There are the thrifty Scotch, and the spendthrifty souls. However, it is very rare that you find a spendthrifty one.”

Dan Greer was a much younger man, and he was an excellent salesman. He had a huge practice and went at it tooth and nail for a month or six weeks. He had quite a lot of surgery on women, much of which was unnecessary. He would schedule a case a day at 7:30 A.M. so he could spend the remainder of the morning in his office. After a few weeks of work he would disappear from circulation for a week or ten days, and no one ever could find out what had become of him. There were thoughts he might be on a binge from alcoholism. Others thought perhaps he went to Las Vegas for a gambling spree. The office gave no information and the home did not answer the telephone.

Finally, one day when he had been absent about a week, he was found by his son dead in his bed. It still has not been told what the cause of death was, but it came just as his surgical privileges were being removed from him. As one of the nurses in the hospital said, “The Lord always finds a way to remove dangerous doctors.”

In striking contrast to him was Doctor Crane. He was a man whose age could not be guessed. His manner was kind, and he always had a good word. He spoke gently to everyone, to nurses and patients alike. He called the women and children “Dear” and “Honey” and he really meant it. He never seemed to be abrupt nor to shorten his visit. He acted like he had all the time in the world, although he was extremely busy. He was a practitioner of the art as well as the science of medicine, and we younger doctors always felt free to ask him questions about a patient’s condition, or even to have him see a patient for us. He was always cheerful and happy to respond. Everybody loved Dr. Crane and he was responsible for much good that was done around him. The nurses took especially good care of his patients, and they seemed to follow him around when he came to the hospital. I am happy to say that he is now retired from practice and is really enjoying his old age as a man should.

James Radcliffe was a different type. In the dressing room he loved to brag about his money and especially about his female conquests. He seemed like a man of very little principle, but he had a good clientele of patients. He would schedule an operation for Thursday or Friday, leave orders on the chart and go out of town for several days. The story was that he had a mine somewhere up in the desert, and he had gone there where no one could reach him. Post-operative patients frequently have some trouble, and they should be seen by their doctor at least twice a day until they are over the hump. Naturally, one likes to see the doctor’s familiar face for morale purposes, if for no other reason. We always chided Jim about running off and leaving his post-operative patients.

“Well, they always get along okay, don’t they?” he would ask. But it was only through the goodness of some helpful doctor who was on the job.

Some of them didn’t get along, so there were malpractice suits brought against him and the hospital. He lost his hospital privileges, as well he should. The hospital had to protect itself, and if it allowed doctors on the staff who don’t care for their patients, it is responsible, too.

Francis Abel was an excellent internal medicine man, never lacking in patients. But he was so abrupt and answered his patients with such harsh candor that everyone was afraid to get his answers to their problem. Let a fellow come in feeling pretty good but is found to have an elevated blood pressure, and Dr. Abel would say, “Gee, man that is high. That can kill you. You’ll have to go into the hospital for a week or so and let us find the cause of it. With that type of blood pressure there is usually a tumor in the gland on one of your kidneys, and it has to be removed surgically.” By the time the patient leaves, his blood-pressure is even higher, from fright.

Or take an individual with a mild heart condition. “Goodness, man,” he would say, “what are you doing out of bed? You go to the hospital right this minute and I’ll call and have you put in the intensive care unit (at $130 a day) and, we’ll get to work on you!”

And afterward, when the heart patient goes to his doctor for a routine checkup, the doctor is so busy talking that he doesn’t even listen to the patient’s heart, unless reminded to do so.

Some doctors are so talkative they tackle any subject, and keep their other clients waiting. I have in mind Dr. Byrd, who did some work for a lodge group. His reception room was always full, but he would prop his feet on the desk and talk, talk, talk while the folks would patiently wait. He loved to talk about fishing, although he never went. It was just a favorite talk-sport. I have known people to be waiting at 2:00 p.m., and still waiting for him at 4:45 p.m. He was so leisurely, one would think he could live forever, but one morning he succumbed to a heart attack, quite early in life. I guess it could be said he did not choose strong antecedents.

Of course there are many, many more types of doctors, but these are the ones that I had close contacts with, and who impressed me most. As a general rule, the medical men I have known have been conscientious, hardworking, and really dedicated to the practice of medicine. Some were too engaged to take a vacation with the family, some were afraid even to leave their patients in another doctor’s hands. It is easy to see why golf is such a good recreation for doctors. It furnishes a complete change of scenery and thought, but still, many doctors hesitate to take Wednesday afternoon off.

For these and other dedicated doctors, my praise to them. May they not decrease in number!

Go on to Chapter 12
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About the author
Trester Smith Harris, M.D. was born in Konawa, Oklahoma Territory, on October 17, 1903. His father was also a medical doctor. Dr. Harris was in private practice for many years in Los Angeles, then worked for a few years at a the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California. After retirement, he wrote these memoirs about 1973. He passed away on September 21, 1975.

Note: This memoir of my father’s experiences and opinions is not intended to constitute medical advice. If you have medical questions, consult qualified medical authorities.

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