Wednesday, 28 November 2012
By Johna Ferguson
I decided to write about my father. Everyone always writes about their mother’s for after all, aren’t they the ones who did most of the raising of us. Somehow fathers seem not as important, but in many cases they are.
My father was a heart and lung specialist, back when those two disciplines were not divided. He graduated from the University of California back in the 20s and moved to Tacoma, Washington, where one of his brothers practiced medicine.
Not only was my dad a highly successful and respected physician, but also a tall, handsome gentleman.
When he set up his practice, he decided to not work on Wednesday afternoons or Saturdays but instead, to relax with his friends playing his favorite game, golf. He devoted Sunday afternoons after church and dinner to making house calls but he was always on call at night if his patients needed him.
He was busy, especially during World War II when all the young doctors were drafted and he had to cover their patients with all kinds of problems, but he always gave Sunday evenings over to his family. In the winter, he’d build a fire in the fireplace and we would sit and play games: Monopoly, Parchisi or cribbage.
We’d listen to the radio - such programs as Fibber McGee and Mollie and munch on fresh popcorn and big dishes of ice cream. In the summer, we did the same only at our summer cabin. Unless it was an absolute emergency, he never gave up those evenings.
But other evenings always found him at his big desk in the living room reading EKGs he’d taken or checking patients charts for the next day’s appointment or brushing up on his specialties by reading The New England Journal and other medical periodicals.
In high school, I even worked in his office part-time doing all the books and ordering of supplies. He had his own x-ray machine, the first EKG machine on the west coast and his own medicine dispensary.
He was a wonderful, old-fashioned doctor but he often lost track of the time and sometimes patients had to wait an hour for him. But when he sat down, he gave them all his attention. He knew about their families, jobs and worries so in my mind he also acted as their therapist. No wonder they came back, time and again.
He never made a lot of money for he never charged people if they couldn’t pay. Many priests and clergy were his patients but he knew they had limited resources. His Chinese patients, most of whom he made house calls on, only paid what they could even if only a dollar. But he was a very happy and contented man with a loving wife and family.
But then he started to age. First he became a little hard of hearing, difficult for a man who must listen to hearts and breathing but he solved that problem. He got a costly electronic stethoscope.
But then he suffered a minor stroke. He decided it was time to leave his practice and stop his golf games. After all, he was almost 80 and had also decided not to drive anymore so no way to get around.
At that time my parents had moved from their large home into a lovely apartment, my mother insisted, before they move, they find one where my father could go out on a deck and watch people or he might go insane.
They found an ideal one located within walking distance of a small shopping district and also one that looked out on a street that ran near a middle school and a block from a Methodist church, the church of their faith.
But once you suffer a stroke, you are more likely to have small ones and then perhaps a bigger one and that’s just what happened. I lived in Seattle, the nearby city, and went to the hospital immediately. He was conscious part of the time, but in a lot of pain so they were giving him morphine for comfort.
He had an oxygen tube and IV feedings but the doctor said he could remain that way for weeks. But finally he fell into a deep coma after suffering the big one.Mother and I were at his bedside but the doctor said there was nothing to do but wait. We both knew he wouldn’t want to live like a vegetable so we asked the doctor to remove the tubes, but he refused. You see he was Catholic and said it was against his beliefs but he suggested we get the hospital administrator and two other doctors to review the case. We decided to go that route and that group of men signed a paper saying we could have the tubes removed, but he still might live a few days longer. I hated to think of him suffering, but he didn’t live but through the night and seemed to die peacefully in his sleep. I can still see him lying there in a coma, but felt my mother and I had made the right decision and it was the most difficult one of my lifetime.
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