Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 9
If you have happened into my private office any time since I started practice forty-five years ago, you may have noticed that lone portrait hanging on the wall. That is Dr. W. D. Middleton.
I met him at the University, and while I was yet an undergraduate he stamped so indelibly upon my heart his great ideals, that I have carried them with me always. I believe that the years, as they have passed, have cut them even deeper, giving them a beauty and meaning which as a younger man I could not know.
Dr. Middleton was not only a great doctor, but he increased his professional stature by a concept of charity and human kindness loftier than any other I have known. Surely it was a kind fate that let me have him for my preceptor.
Outwardly such a modest, unassuming man, he soon showed me in hundreds of ways while I was associated with him a depth of character and a medical skill as remarkable as they are rare. His insight was almost uncanny. He never mentioned it, but he knew that I was very poor; and whenever he had the slightest excuse he saw to it that I received pay for work that I did for him.
His generosity extended farther. He gave me responsibilities beyond routine matters, the better to train me for actual practice. Probably one of the happiest days in my life was when he allowed me to assist him in performing his first laparotomy. He successfully removed a thirty-pound tumor and the patient recovered.
It was in helping with his general practice that I really learned to know him. Seeing him follow day in and day out his rigid code of ethics was an even more valuable experience to me than was the chance to have intimate contact with his large general practice. More than once in those months was I impressed by his unselfishness, his devotion to the sick, and, above all, his cheerfulness and patience. He was never too tired to make another call, never too hurried to a word of encouragement. And he so gave himself that, regardless of the toil it might take, he would always merit the trust and complete confidence of his patients. They were sure that if there was anything in the field of medicine to help them, Dr. Middleton would know about it and would make available such relief.
After I had been in his office for some months, the doctor let me make such calls as he thought I could, especially on days when he was particularly busy. It was just such a day when, after office hours, I suggested that I might take care of a certain case, a man whom I had seen that morning with the doctor.
Dr. Middleton shook his head, invited me to sit down and have a cigar. "No," he said slowly, "that is one call I couldn't let you make. They might not understand." Then he went on to tell me that the family, once well-to-do, now very poor, had for years employed him as the family physician. "I wouldn't want them to fee that because of their poverty I had lost interest in them. That is one call that I must make."
How many times since then have I recalled that homely incident, recognizing anew the truth it told; that the reward of a physician is not always money but sometimes something far more precious than the coin of the realm.
His idealism extended into his relations with other physicians. He helped younger physicians, was loyal to his colleagues, did not know jealousy, and was charitable even to those who were unkind to him.
One time a doctor friend, who was in the habit of bringing his surgical patients to Dr. Middleton, was asked by a patient to call in Dr. X, instead of Dr. Middleton, for an operation. This doctor friend came to Dr. Middleton, telling of the patient's request and asking his advice about Dr. X, who was a young surgeon and quite unknown to the doctor friend. It happened that Dr. X had not been ethical in his relations with Dr. Middleton and that, coupled with the obvious fact that this case would normally have come to Dr. Middleton, put my preceptor in a position which would have tempted any lesser man.
Magnanimous under even such trying conditions, Dr. Middleton replied truthfully, unmindful of himself, "I know Dr. X very well and am well acquainted with his ability as a physician and surgeon. I can assure you that he is the peer of any surgeon in the state, and I feel that you will make no mistake if you grant this patient's request and have Dr. X into see him."
I only hope that in my professional dealings with broth practitioners I have reflected, even in a small way, that splendid idealism of Dr. Middleton.