By Jane Heil Usyk
How would you like to be able to phone your doctor and get someone real on the other end, your doctor or his/her nurse, and make an appointment for a few days in the future without having to wait interminably for recorded messages not intended for you, and numerous irrelevant instructions?
How would you like to just pay a small bill every time you see your doctor, and not be bothered by insurance payments, what companies do and don’t cover, endless phone calls to insurance companies, and countless worries about the slightest injury and what it will cost?
WestView News is always writing about health, sickness, medicine and hospitals, so I thought I could contribute my memories of my grandfather, Doctor George Goldman, who was a doctor in the early years of the 20th century.
He graduated from Yale Medical School in 1910 and interned at St. Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven. In 1912, he became a general practitioner: delivering babies with the crude instruments available then, curing fevers, dealing with coughs, colds, and the odd death. I know he delivered a lot of babies, because when, 60 years later, I wheeled him down the corridor at his new residence, the Masonic Home in Wallingford, old people in wheelchairs came out of their rooms in droves, all saying, “Hey, Doc, you delivered my babies!”
Cancer was rare then, not like today, when everyone and his brother has it. Why it was so rare is a big topic for another article. If I had gotten breast cancer then, I’d be a dead duck. Instead, I got it in 2006, and I had an operation, took chemo, and had radiation, and I am still among the living.
I spent a lot of time in my grandfather’s office in the 1940’s and ’50s, and I never saw any drug salesmen walk in, never saw those pens, pads and doodads they bring with them to seduce doctors into using their drugs. My grandfather did his own research in the huge medical books he had at home and in the office, and in JAMA, the medical journal to which he subscribed and which he read judiciously. It would never have occurred to him, or to his colleagues, to let drug salesmen tell them what to do.
In the late 1920s, he decided to specialize. He took the Richard Peck, a passenger steamer, from New Haven to New York once a week, and studied how to become a radiologist. It was a new field, and very promising; you could actually see into the patient’s body.
But the new field had not come into existence without a cost. “What were those early radiologists like?” I asked him one day. He launched into an awful litany of scientists and researchers with holes in their skin, scars on their faces, hands with different misshapen spots, missing noses. “They didn’t know then. They had no idea.”
In 1918, there was a world-wide flu epidemic in which 21 million people died (but none of my grandfather’s patients). He was gone from the house from early morning until late at night; my five-year-old mom missed him terribly.
My grandfather had a patient, a child, with diphtheria, which was up to then (the 1920s) an often fatal disease. The antitoxin had only recently become available. The child was on Lafayette Street in New Haven; the antitoxin was in the Department of Health in City Hall on Church Street in New Haven. My grandfather’s office was four or five blocks from City Hall, and he ran all the way to City Hall to get the last vial of diphtheria antitoxin. He saved the child’s life that day.
My grandfather died in the Masonic Home in the winter of 1980, at 92, unaware of most of the amazing changes taking place in medicine. The medicines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, for instance, and not covered by insurance. The slide of the United States in the WHO general health standing from sixth place in the world in 1990 to 37th place in 2018. The refusal of insurance companies to cover so many health issues, such as glasses, hearing aids, and dental care. The emphasis on providing pills rather than cures for common problems such as high blood pressure and arthritis.
And the general inability of a patient to reach his or her doctor when the doctor is needed. When my grandfather practiced, anyone could come to his door at home or at the office, and find him in. One night in 1912, a Russian immigrant couple knocked on his door at 2:00 a.m.; she was in labor and about to deliver. They had, the day before, arrived from Russia. My grandfather helped her deliver triplets, and he kept them warm near a wood stove, since no incubators were available. They all lived, and a few days later the parents took them to a new home.
He was basically a practical person. His sister, Claire, tried to go swimming in Long Island Sound one day. But she started trembling and turned blue. She came out of the water and, the next day, consulted her brother, my grandfather, about what to do. “Water, Claire—not for you.” And she never went in the water again.
He also didn’t like vitamins, couldn’t see the need for them. He never suggested I should take any vitamins for my health.
He also had an odd love for new products. In the 1940s, he thought the new items from food companies were just the greatest. I remember one day he showed me a loaf of rectangular white bread. Ordinarily, he bought delicious rye bread from the Jewish bakeries in New Haven. This new bread was clearly devoid of nutrition, more like cardboard than bread. But my grandfather couldn’t stop talking about it.
Well, nobody’s perfect. Not even my grandfather. If he had lived longer he might have learned not to trust the makers of Wonder Bread so much.
The author would like to credit the late Estelle Goldman Heil, who wrote two published memoirs of her father, and from whom she borrowed liberally. She would also like to thank Stuart A. Goldman, who critiqued the article and provided a photo.