Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 53
The telephone rang and my office girl answered. "Is Dr. Rohlf in?" the voice asked.
"No, he's at the hospital," she answered. To her surprise the person on the other end of the line asked, "Oh, is he sick?"
There have been two times in my career when that second question wouldn't have been foolish, for twice I have been at the other end of a surgeon's knife. Both times I learned a sympathy for the ills of others, something which is more important than even the gain in physical health.
In my first illness, an acute gall bladder infection, in 1913, I was attended by Dr. H. M. Richter who came out from Chicago to help me. After he removed the stones and drained the bladder, I made such good recovery that for ten years I was well.
When I did get sick I more or less made up for lost time. I was attending a meeting of the American College of Surgeons in Chicago, took sick at midnight, was in the hospital at one o'clock, and was operated on that morning, when my gall bladder was removed by Dr. Richter and Dr. Buchbinder. I had a stormy convalescence by severe phlebitis, but I came out all right and shall not soon forget the kindness of the doctors not only to me but also to Mrs. Rohlf.
I was finally able to come home, but as the winter wore on I knew that my birthday clinic would have to wait until another year. The disappointment of having to skip that year was made a little easier when my brother, Dr. Edward L. Rohlf of Waterloo, invited me to his home for a birthday dinner.
Arriving at the appointed time at his home, I was a little surprised to find no dinner ready; but he explained that he had decided to have the meal downtown at Black's Tea Room. So I accompanied him downtown, went to Black's, and stepped into the dinner room just as he flicked on the lights. There seated before me were all the doctors who would have been at my clinic! They cheered, they shouted, they clapped me on the back while the tears trickled down my cheeks unashamed and my mouth tried to find to find words for the emotions I couldn't express.
During the dinner I got hold of myself a little and heard how this great banquet happened to be. Dr. John Brinkman of Waterloo had written my office girl for my clinic list and had sent out invitations to everyone. This was the response.
After the dinner there was a toast program. Knowing that I would probably be called upon, I steeled myself; yet when the time came I was lost for I hadn't known the rest of this banquet story. The toastmaster produced a magnificent loving cup filled with folded pieces of paper. He explained: "When the invitations to this dinner were sent out, there was included in them the suggestion that we buy something for you, a token of esteem to give you tonight. That token is this cup. In it you will notice many pieces of paper. Those are the letters which came back in answer to the invitations. We had had no notion of keeping these letters, but as they arrived it became more and more apparent that in each was something which really belonged to you: a sincere personal tribute to you. We felt you would enjoy reading them. It is my privilege to present them to you in this silver loving cup."
My trembling hands closed over the cool, smooth handles of the cup, gripping them as if for support. I tried in vain to choke back the tears, my throat was tight; yet somehow I heard my own voice, as if it were miles away and belonging to some other person, thanking my friends for the cup; I heard myself telling a silly story about Ole and Katrina, in which Katrina hurried Ole with his proposal for "she had had the answer ready a long time"; I heard myself saying that I wished I, too, had an answer.
I couldn't see my friends' they were a blur in front of me; my heart pounded and my voice seemed far, far away.
But within me my soul cried out in exaltation, "My cup runneth over with joy."
Inscription: Presented to our esteemed and loveable colleague Dr. W. A. Rohlf on the anniversary of his fifty-seventh birth-day, January Fifth - 1924, by fellows of his former birth-day parties and clinics. Photograph from the Rathe Family Archive.