Doc’s de­ci­sion to re­tire af­ter 43 years brings tears of grat­i­tude

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - MARY MITCHELL

[email protected]­times.com | @MaryMitchel­lCST

The first time I walked into Dr. B’s of­fice 20-some years ago, I didn’t know what to ex­pect. All my pri­mary doc­tors had been black, but black doc­tors were scarce.

I had to trust that who­ever came through the door to ex­am­ine me would be some­one who treated ev­ery pa­tient the same re­gard­less of race, eth­nic­ity or sta­tus.

James P. Baraglia, M.D. — af­fec­tion­ately known as “Dr. B” — turned out to be that per­son.

For more than two decades, I have trusted him to help me main­tain my health.

He nagged me un­til I fi­nally stopped smok­ing — for good. He showed me the value of reg­u­lar ex­er­cise by work­ing out ev­ery day — come scorch­ing heat or freez­ing hawk.

Dur­ing a rou­tine breast exam, he found a ma­lig­nant lump so tiny I couldn’t even feel it.

Dr. B has held my hand through sev­eral health scares — real and imag­ined.

But most of all, he has al­ways treated me with not only pro­fes­sional cour­tesy, but with … I don’t know … je ne sais quoi? And that made me feel like I was his fa­vorite pa­tient.

So when I re­ceived my “Dear Pa­tient” let­ter in­form­ing me that he would be re­tir­ing ef­fec­tive Dec. 31, I was stunned.

“No. No. No,” I wanted to cry. “Who’s go­ing to look af­ter me now?”

I’m not alone in my angst. Ac­cord­ing to re­cent sur­veys, one in four prac­tic­ing physi­cians in the U.S. is over age 60, and most of them will re­tire in the next five years.

Af­ter sulk­ing for a few weeks, I made my fi­nal ap­point­ment with Dr. B.

“Why now?” I asked him.

We’ve had count­less con­ver­sa­tions about ev­ery­thing from mile­stones to pol­i­tics, and Dr. B. has al­ways been can­did. This time, he an­swered me in a poignant es­say.

Here are a few ex­cerpts:

“The an­swer is both sim­ple and com­plex. Our world seems to be chaotic — anger, vi­o­lence and de­spair have taken the place of peace, ac­cep­tance and hope. We need rea­son­able peo­ple with the power and abil­ity to re­verse this alarm­ing trend. I’m sure that peo­ple of good will, from all gen­er­a­tions, would will­ingly do their part to meet this goal.

In the mean­time, this gave me a sense of ur­gency. It is im­por­tant to me to spend time with my fam­ily and friends, open new chap­ters in my life and build ev­er­last­ing pleas­ant mem­o­ries. And the time for that is now, while my health and mind are sound. So as I ap­proach my 70th year, hav­ing prac­ticed medicine for 43 years, I de­cided to take the op­por­tu­nity to grace­fully exit.”

A re­cent study by Com­pHealth, a health care staffing firm, found that most physi­cians wanted to keep work­ing “due to the en­joy­ment of the prac­tice of medicine, and the so­cial as­pects of work­ing.”

Dr. B ap­par­ently also strug­gled with his de­ci­sion to “hang up his stetho­scope.”

“[I] feel reser­va­tion and re­morse in that de­ci­sion. I was honored to have pa­tients that al­lowed me to be a part of their lives, re­gard­less of color, race, re­li­gion or in­come. Many of these pa­tients have be­come friends, and I will miss car­ing for them and their fam­i­lies in their times of need. Our con­ver­sa­tions went be­yond med­i­cal care. We of­ten dis­cussed life in gen­eral, sports, travel, fam­ily and even pol­i­tics. I will for­ever cher­ish these con­ver­sa­tions.”

Hav­ing prac­ticed medicine for four decades, he of­fers some sage ad­vice for doc­tors just start­ing their ca­reers:

As health care costs es­ca­late, ad­min­is­tra­tions and cor­po­ra­tions be­come larger and more pow­er­ful. This is an un­in­tended con­se­quence in a sys­tem that seeks to pro­vide the best med­i­cal care avail­able, and has forced many physi­cians to be­come em­ployed by in­sti­tu­tions or groups. … But some­thing is miss­ing. … I be­lieve it is the ‘art of medicine.’… [W]hat about the es­sen­tial pa­tient-doc­tor re­la­tion­ship — sit­ting with a pa­tient or fam­ily, get­ting to know them, their con­cerns and what makes them tick??? Be­ing con­cerned about as­pects of their life be­yond their med­i­cal needs is crit­i­cal to good pa­tient care.”

Dr. Baraglia had al­ways wanted to be a physi­cian, and in eighth grade, he was struck by a quote from Dr. W.C. Al­varez: “I know of no other work which gives such a soul-fill­ing and life-long sat­is­fac­tion …”

But it was the sim­ple words from an­other doc­tor — Dr. Seuss — that be­came Dr. Baraglia’s fa­vorite say­ing:

“Don’t cry be­cause it is over — smile be­cause it hap­pened.”

Thank you, Dr. B, for hap­pen­ing to me.

Dr. James P. Baraglia and colum­nist Mary Mitchell on her last visit. Dr. B is re­tir­ing at the end of the year.

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