Family Doctors

These days, everyone needs to have a specialist for every part of his body.  There are the cardiologists, the obstetricians, the oncologists, the allergists, and all matter of other doctors who are as far from generalists as one could be.  Rare is the doctor like the late great Harry Brotman whose general practice in Newark, New Jersey, protected my entire family.  We credited Dr.Brotman with caring for us from the delivery room to the grave.

Of course, my parents didn’t need more.  All of their organs worked just fine.  Their hearts and lungs and thyroids were all seemingly in perfect order.  And testing for as yet undiagnosed diseases was not something they did.

They never had cholesterol checks or mammograms or even blood pressure readings.  No scans had yet been invented so there was definitely no need for CTs or MRIs in their world order.  If colonoscopy was known, I certainly never heard the word as a Newark kid. My mother and father believed that aspirin would cure most ills.  Turns out that they may have been right.

This was not due to any lack of sophistication.  Both of them were well read and well versed.  And both expected their bodies to function like the family car, which in our family’s case, was usually old, weathered, and worked fine with bald tires and a bit of oil.  Gas was the imperative ingredient.  Period.

So, it came as a surprise when my sister, three years younger than I, was born with a minor, but distressing, problem known as a blocked tear duct.  My mother just could not stand seeing her beautiful blond baby girl with a constant dripping from her eye.  Strangely, my mother obsessed with this condition and I recall spending an inexorable amount of time in forced accompaniment, boarding the bus to High Street to visit the renowned opthalmologist, Dr. Rosen.  We would take the 14 bus and deboard at Clinton Avenue and High Street.  Then we would hike up the hill on the appropriately named street until we saw the charcoal gray home office of Dr. Rosen.  In all kinds of weather we trekked.  All for naught.  Dr. Rosen did not have the magic solution to my sister’s problem.  Through the years my mother deposited lots of money with his secretary and none of his solutions worked whatsoever.

But, one day, after years of treatment, my sister tripped and fell on our driveway.  It was a bad fall and she screamed mightily, probably blaming me, but I was innocent.  Later, it became clear that I would have been smarter to proclaim guilt because then I’d have been a savior.  The fall did what the esteemed doctor couldn’t.  It opened the blocked tear duct!  If there were a blessing for a driveway, my mother would have shouted it loud and clear.  We all rejoiced that we wouldn’t be shlepping to Dr. Rosen any more.

But Dr. Brotman was a different story.  He was the family doctor.  The few times in my childhood that I was good and sick he would show up at our apartment, black bag in hand and deal with a very reluctant patient.  I would kick and scream and certainly make him earn his fee.

We had endless confidence in Dr. Brotman. This in spite of the fact that his office desk was piled so high with unread professional journals that it became hard to see the diminutive doctor sitting in front of us.  It was pretty obvious that he wasn’t keeping up with whatever was new in the medical world.

Yet, all in our family thrived under his care.  My mother and father had no conditions whatsoever.  On the long list of bad diseases to strike mortal men, they seemed inordinately protected against all of them.  There was no diabetes, arthritis, heart disease or, whisper now, cancer.  They surely had heard of all these curses, but they themselves never got more than a little sniffle, and even that was rare.

So we did well with Dr. Brotman.  He didn’t care about doing tests and looking for illness.  And my parents were in complete agreement.  If it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it.

My parents lived long and healthy lives in spite of the fact that they never took medicine to reduce their cholesterol.  They went blissfully through life eating organ meats a plenty and never pursuing food they didn’t like because it was purportedly good for them.

Not everyone is so lucky.  This I know personally.  Suffice to say that Dr. Brotman wouldn’t have been the doctor for me, or my husband, in our adulthood.  But wasn’t it lucky that my parents never needed all the accoutrements of medical care that accompany illness.  No tests.  No hospitalizations.  Just a nice friendly family doctor. RIP Dr,. B.  You took good care of us.

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.