I think my father died because he was comfortable with his doctor. It’s not the doctor’s fault. I don’t know if the doctor urged my father to get a second opinion or see a specialist. He might have. In the early 70s, regular doctors working out of their basements, like our doctor did, did not have much in the way of equipment, and they were not big on tests. I did not like this doctor, but he was not a total idiot.
So, I think it was my father who was the stubborn one, who refused to get a second opinion. And my mother could not change his mind.
The trouble started for me at visiting day for summer camp Naaleh when I was 14:
“Your father’s stomach is acting up,” my mother said, when they came up and he didn’t eat lunch with us. They left as quickly as they could. Later, she wrote to say he had spent three days in bed after that visit, and his doctor had put him on a bland diet.
I came home to a house full of dread; something was very wrong with Daddy. My mother called it an ulcer and put up a brave front, but I had seen the posters and Public Service Announcements for the Seven Warning Signs of Cancer: change in bowel or bladder habits, a sore that doesn’t heal, unusual bleeding or discharge, thickening or a lump, indigestion or difficulty swallowing, obvious change in a wart or mole, nagging cough or hoarseness — and the kicker, “unexplained weight loss.” I wasn’t sure about the warts and moles, but I silently checked my father’s other symptoms against the list. One was supposed to be trouble, but he had three of the Seven Warning Signs.
“Hershi’s losing his muscles and complaining about his pot belly. I don’t know what’s going on,” I heard my mother telling her friends. “His doctor is a sheester,” a shoemaker, not a good doctor at all. I couldn’t argue with that–this was the doctor who failed to catch my mother’s pneumonia early enough to keep her out of the hospital, the doctor I had refused to see since I was twelve. But he spoke my father’s language–literally–I think they both spoke a mix of Hungarian and Czech.
I finally confronted her. “Ma, why don’t we get Daddy a better doctor?” I asked.
“Your father is comfortable with the one he has.”
Comfortable. Who knew comfortable could be so bad for the health? “You mean the same doctor who said you had the flu until you found out it was pneumonia?” I argued.
“Pre, there’s nothing we can do. It’s the way things are.” The same determination that helped my father survive the Holocaust now kept him from changing his mind about his doctor.