Just before Pesach I received an email from a young doctor in Texas. She had read a blog I wrote for TOI in November about family doctors, especially focusing on my childhood family doctor who happened to be her grandfather, z;l. I could read the excitement on the computer screen. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, her beloved grandfather was speaking to her through the words on the TOI site. She even told me that she herself had become a doctor, a family doctor at that, because of the influence of her grandfather. And so did quite a few of her 7 siblings!
Did you ever put a note in a bottle and send it out to sea, only to find that some fellow human far far away had found your note and was responding to it? It’s an exciting feeling! Someone out there who I don’t know has read and been touched by what I’ve written. So touched that she shared the post with her entire family……and I have since received photos of the long gone Dr. Harry Brotman of whom I wrote.
Sometimes our actions resonate. And so I am now in touch with the extended family of Dr. Brotman, the man who delivered me at Newark Beth Israel Hospital, 78 years ago; the same man who tended to my sore throats and ear infections, sometimes making housecalls with his black doctor bag and often delivering a painful stab of penicillin into vulnerable spots. I fought him tooth and nail at those horrid housecalls. I had to be held down by my mother and my aunt.
But Dr. Brotman’s judgment was never questioned. I didn’t want the exam or the medicine, and neither may have been good medicine by today’s standards, but my mother and father never doubted his word. He was the doctor, which was pretty close in rank to God himself. Like it or not, what Dr. Brotman said was what we believed to be true.
For one very beautiful act, however, Dr. Brotman earned our family’s eternal gratitude. When my grandfather, Pop, who lived with us in our Newark apartment, was obviously dying, my mother, yielding to Pop’s dread of hospitals, asked Dr. Brotman if Pop could stay at home in his own room and bed. This was the room where his blue striped suit hung on the door ready for my wedding three weeks later. I can still see the unbearable mixture of a dying man and a suit cleaned and pressed awaiting a joyous event. The dying came first! Dr. Brotman understood that nothing good would happen to Pop in the hospital. At home he was surrounded by those who loved him; Pop left us peacefully, with no tubes or tests. How many contemporary doctors would be so supportive.
I know my mother, Pop’s daughter, wasn’t so lucky. Hospitalized for the last time, her doctors pursued an aggressive course of testing, causing her unrelenting misery as they did colonoscopy and mammography on a woman who could no longer stand and would have preferred no treatment to the invasive torture her physicians plied upon her. The tests were negative and the patient suffered. Despite her written instructions about rejecting extraordinary efforts to sustain life that no longer possessed any quality or hope, she was not given the peace that her father, a generation earlier, had earned from Dr Brotman,
So we owed a lot to Dr. Brotman and I hope his progeny learned from his example that oftentimes less is more when it comes to doctoring, particularly in the very old.
Dr. Brotman’s grandchildren are scattered throughout the United States. I never knew him as a father or grandfather but I imagine he, called Gramps by all of them, was warm and proud and loving, with his deep bass voice bursting in pride at their accomplishments. It’s pretty obvious that they loved him deeply if they took the time from their busy lives to write to an anonymous blogger in Herzliya. So, indeed, sometimes what goes around comes around. Rest in peace Dr. Brotman. You served us well.