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.
Preeva, what a wonderful photo of you and your father. And, what a great article.
Preeva, I think you are right….I also think that your words make your loss as palpable as it was in 1975.
Thanks,,Janet. The whole community really supported us! M
That’s a poignant story that goes beyond just watching a loved one make complacent decisions. My father’s path was similar except I was a little older and, long story short, he ended up in Florida at the time of his illness, where I could not see the steady yet rapid progression. The need for comfort, as you refer to it, must be a part of the human condition. In my father’s case, he chose what seemed to be an nonaggressive approach and singular placement of faith in his doctor, shunning any second opinions in the guise of not wanting to inconvenience anyone. Ironically, my father was a doctor.
When did you father pass away?
I am sorry to hear that he did not fight harder.
Maybe because he was a doctor, he knew the odds weren’t that great.
Maybe he didn’t have the Internet then.
Look, my Dad probably had enough struggle. He had a pretty good life, and he was content to exit when he did.
Look, he stopped smoking.
And, he took chemo and lived an extra year, but my guess is he knew what was going on, but didn’t think the reward for early detection was worth the risk.
In 1973, maybe it wasn’t.
Did you read that New York Times article about breast cancer? Made me think about early detection.
My father passed away in 1994. He lived to see one grandson which I thought would have made him fight harder but he expressed comfort with a surgeon at a small community hospital instead of going to the nearest major city or coming back North. I believe his surgeon gave him a sense of optimism, but when the day of surgery came that surgeon, with a duration well in excess of expectation as evidence, appeared to be over his head. Seeing the surgeon after the operation, he looked as I imagine David would have after battling Goliath. Several days later, my father was back for an unexpected second operation to deal with an infection that developed around the surgical site. That I believe was as much a cause for his rapid decline as the cancer itself. My father seemed hopeful after the first procedure but seemed to lose that grasp with the second. He was always one to see the bright side of things along with the good in other people and I think he conceded to both in his choice. Apart from this sudden turn, he seemed happy, enjoying his relatively recent retirement, and in general, comfortable.
Somewhat ironically, my father had recently bought his first computer that same year and was proud of his newfound skills and modernized mentality. Since I was in that profession, which he initially approached with skepticism but grew to admire, I may have influenced his interest The internet as we know it today was not around but I believe he would have been a user. I don’t think he would have used it to investigate his medical issue though, as he had colleagues for that. In fact, he probably would disapprove of the consumer medical sites that now abound.
I did not see the New York Times article, but I do know of the benefits of early detection, especially with regard to breast cancer. I suspect my father knew for some time before his symptoms became medically significant, that he had an issue brewing. After all, he was a doctor. Then again, he was also content to be comfortable.