At the end of a previous blog entry called Doctor's office, I promised some more stories of a similar nature. I'll start with one that was told about the doctor who delivered me, Hyman Lieberman (called "Hy"). He remained my pediatrician for as long as I lived in Brooklyn, New York, until around 1948 or 1949.
As Hy got older, he took a younger doctor into his practice. Returning from a vacation one day, Hy walked into his waiting room, and was greeted by his younger colleague. The younger doctor said something to the effect of, "I'm glad to see you, Hy. I have a young patient with some puzzling symptoms. In fact, he's in the waiting room right now. Perhaps you could take a look at him and give me an opinion."
Hy responded, "He has nasal diphtheria." The younger doctor was rather startled. Diphtheria as a disease had been more or less conquered by immunization, and I don't think the younger doctor had even heard of its having a "nasal" variety. But more to the point, Hy had given his diagnosis without examining the patient. In fact, he didn't even know which of the numerous children in the waiting room was the patient in question. How on earth could he have possibly done this?
Hy explained to his astounded compatriot, "Patients with nasal diphtheria emit a characteristic odor. I smelled it the instant I walked into the waiting room, and remembered it clearly from decades ago."
And now for something completely different, to quote Monty Python. Let me jump way forward to when I was a college student at MIT, living in the dormitory Baker House. My roommate, Jack Solomon, developed a high fever, very likely the flu. He felt so weak that he was unable to walk without assistance. It required one friend on each side to hold him up and walk him across the campus to the infirmary, which at that time was in MIT's "Building 10", the central building on the campus, under the dome.
In those days, as now, receiving medical care involved a great deal of paperwork. Most students paid for a form of college medical insurance which was simply called "MIT Student Health", although occasionally some made use of other health insurance policies. When Jack arrived at the front desk of the infirmary, a rather abrupt woman behind the desk laid three or four pieces of paper of in front of him, to be filled out before he could be admitted. They contained questions about his medical background, his symptoms, and his insurance.
Jack gazed woozily at the forms, which must've been swimming in front of his eyes, and I wondered if he was in sufficient possession of his faculties to fill them out. He essentially answered this question by suddenly throwing up on them, causing the woman behind the desk to have to jump backwards to avoid being spattered with vomit. Following that, she admitted him immediately, noting that the forms could be taken care of later. It was the most spectacular response to a medical questionnaire that I had ever seen, or have ever seen since.
I've already discussed getting older, an issue I addressed in my blog entry entitled Old. The fact is, I was concerned about aging even when I was much younger than I am now, in fact, only a bit more than half my current age. When I turned forty, I expressed some dismay about this to my internist at the time, Dr. Alvin Khan. Since Dr. Khan was quite a bit older than I, he was not inclined to be sympathetic. He made some remark to the effect of, "Gee, I wish I could see 40 again."
It's all relative. In his book, The Sensuous Dirty Old Man, Isaac Asimov, writing as "Dr. A", wrote:
Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great Supreme Court Justice, in his last years (he lived to be ninety-four), was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with a friend, when a pretty girl passed. As all dirty old men must, especially when the dignity of the Supreme Court is at stake, Holmes turned to look after her. Having done so, he sighed and said to his friend, "Ah, George, what wouldn't I give to be seventy-five again?"
I never thought there were any medical advantages to getting old. But at my last physical, my internist noted that as I approach 75 (only three more years to go), I've "aged out" of some medical problems. For example, having survived to this age without getting colon cancer, I pretty much don't have to worry about it anymore. Colon cancer is so slow growing that if a tumor started at my age, it wouldn't be a health threat. The same may be true about prostate cancer. She noted that having reached 75, one has a decent chance of living into one's 90s. Finally, some good news about aging!
On to an earlier story! Quite some time ago (I think in the early 70s), I walked into the office of an allergist that I had never previously visited. I checked in, and took a seat in the waiting room. After a bit, a nurse appeared, and called my name. When she saw me stand in response, she looked a bit surprised, and said something to the effect of, "My, you've really matured since you were here last." I answered, "I've never been to this office before."
Looking down at the clipboard she was carrying, she said, "Yes, you were here about a year ago. You were just 16 then." I said, "Well then, I really have matured, because I'm 31 now." Looking again at the clipboard, she said, "Aren't you Lawrence Krakauer?" I answered in the affirmative. "Of Weston?" I countered, "No, I'm from Wayland." Note 1
I think this was the first time I discovered that there was another person named "Lawrence Krakauer" in the area. I've mentioned him before in other blog entries. The funny thing is, since this event, he's moved to Wayland, where he lives less than 2.5 miles from me. These days, with the advent of a law called HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), doctors and their offices are very careful about verifying patient identity. They usually check your birth date, and often other identifying information, before doing anything else.
I've mentioned the other Larry Krakauer previously, in my entries called Krakauer and Google. There, I noted that in addition to both now living in Wayland, Massachusetts, we both have MIT degrees, and have worked, or are working, in the computer industry. We're not related, but due to both living in such a small town and having the same last name, we've been confused from time to time in various ways. And more than once, in a doctor's waiting room.
The other Larry Krakauer and I were once mixed up in an article in our local paper, in a report on something I had said on the floor of Wayland's annual Town Meeting. I wrote a letter to the editor explaining that there were now two Larry Krakauers in town, and I closed by welcoming the other Larry to Wayland. I then suggested that if people wanted to distinguish between us, they could refer to him as "the young Larry Krakauer", and to me as "the real Larry Krakauer".
Purely by chance, we found ourselves side-by-side one day at the pharmacy desk of our local CVS. Larry commented to the pharmacist that this was an extremely rare double-Larry-Krakauer sighting. They didn't mix up our drugs.
Note 1: I don't remember exactly when this event occurred, so I've had to guess what our ages were at the time. I do know our relative ages, however. Weston and Wayland are adjacent towns, by the way. [return to text]