I used to think that 40 was a pretty old age. As I revised my definition of “old,” I began to notice that many of the authority figures in my life were becoming increasingly youthful. An airline pilot on a recent flight looked to as if he wasn’t old enough for a driver’s license.
My first patients in private practice were mostly overflow from my partner’s practice and drop-ins. No one sought me out, as I had no track record. Surely, my youthful appearance did not inspire immediate confidence.
My partner, Paul Fagan, provided free care to the nuns in a nearby convent. I soon got to know the sisters and they began referring patients. On almost the same day I began practice a newly ordained priest, Father John Philip, was assigned to our local parish. We became friends, and we developed a reciprocal arrangement—I sent him some troubled souls and he often referred new families to me. We kidded that we were the only two people in town that no one trusted, the new doctor and the new priest. He baptized two of our children, and we often got together for lunch. We have remained friends over the years. John Philip is now a retired Monsignor.
Over time, I discovered that certain specialists to whom I referred patients, themselves became sources of referrals. Our patients were predominately middle class. My partner and I cross-covered Dr. Bud Nutzel, a solo practitioner with a demographically similar practice in nearby Nutley (famous for its ITT Tower– click here to watch it fall, in 1996). Rarely did we trespass into Upper (“Uppah”) Montclair or the mansions on Ridgewood Road in Glen Ridge. One such house call was memorable.
On a Sunday afternoon while watching football on TV I received a call from a very desperate-sounding new patient, an elderly woman who gave me an address on Upper Mountain Avenue, where most houses stood far back on multi-acre plots. She screamed “My sister has cancer and she is bleeding to death!” I told her to call an ambulance and I would meet her in the hospital emergency room. She refused, saying her sister wanted to die at home. I could not change her mind, so I grabbed my black bag and jumped into my car.
I quickly drove to the address. As I expected, it was a three story home, situated high above the road at the end of a long drive. An anxious lady met me at a side door, not the spacious front entry. The house had been subdivided into modest apartments for multi-family use. The lady had blood on her hands and dress. As she led me up to the second floor she told me that her sister had “cancer of the bowels” and had an operation a couple of years ago. Her doctor said he had “gotten it all,” but she “knew” it had not gone away. I noticed that blood was spattered on the carpet of the narrow staircase. Inside the small apartment, a bloody trail led to the bathroom, where the white tile floor, the walls and the tub were all copiously smeared with fresh blood.
In the tub, the woman’s sister sat in a few inches of red water. She was praying out loud, asking the Lord to take her. I quickly drained the tub and asked for some towels so that I could locate the source of the bleeding. It was immediately evident that all the blood was coming from the heel of her right foot! I applied pressure, and the bleeding stopped.
We went over what had happened just before they discovered the bleeding. The sisters, in bedroom slippers, had been out tending a few flowers in a bed near their entryway. After they had climbed back up the stairs they suddenly saw blood on the carpet and presumed the worst. In the patient’s panic to undress she smeared blood all over herself, then went into the tub to contain the mess. For some reason she did not feel the sharp object (presumably a discarded razor blade) cut into the sole of her foot.
After I had bandaged her foot and arranged for her to be driven to my office for stitches, I descended the stairs. There was a blood spot on every other step. Sherlock Holmes (or, if he had been born yet, Mr. Monk) would have solved that case before he ever saw the victim!