Every morning, six days a week, over the entire year, except for his frugal vacations taken in Portugal usually but sometimes in Florida or California, the family doctor made his rounds in the Valley. He called on the chronically ill and the recently ill. If there were new patients or old patients just recently ill, he would find out about them by calling his office or through messages left in anticipation at the houses of the chronically ill. Sometimes he sat down for a cup of coffee and if there was a pot or pan on the stove he would always lift the lid, look into the pot, and sometimes take up a spoon or a fork to grab a taste, take a sip. On rare occasions he would even take up somebody’s pro forma invitation to lunch. He never seemed to be in a hurry even when he stayed no more than five or ten minutes. Sometimes he would stay as long as a half hour. With infinite patience he would sit and fill out the bothersome depositions for the mutual benefit societies, the União Beneficente or the União Continental, so that the patient, or the patient’s wife, or the patient’s mother could the weekly three to eight dollars for the member’s disability. He wouldn’t charge for all his visits and follow-ups cost very little or, for some nothing at all. He never urged anyone-not until much later in his career when he was trying to modify not only his professional ways but those of his patients as well-to come to his Providence office on Governor Street in Fox Point.
He diagnosed illnesses on the spot in the bedroom turned sickroom and he treated them right off. Once he asked me to go into the bathroom and urinate into a small bottle. He took the full bottle, tipping it so that he wet one of his fingers with urine. He put his finger to his lips, tasted it. “Well, no traces in the urine. Must be something else.” When it was a case of the measles and he saw his patient closed up in a dark room, wrapped tight in a red blanket “to bring out the measles pustules,” he never questions the mother’s medical wisdom. He did tactfully only what he could. And when one of his older patients, knowing that the doctor himself suffered from hemorrhoids, told him about a new folk cure concocted of juices, herbs, and what have you, the doctor wrote the prescription down, and thanked him.
It was said that at the outset the doctor had had his difficulties. First of all, his older brother had been practicing in the area for some times when he arrived. No matter that the brother was sick in the mid-1940s and all-too-ready to retire to Portugal. It was the younger brother who had to step in to build a practice his brother, had squandered-through neglect, out of illness, and for sentimental reasons-so that, rather than inheriting a going practice, he found himself starting from scratch. Even the right to admit patients to the area’s main hospital, never first-rate, did not come easy to him. It took the intervention of an undertaker, I was told, a powerful figure on the hospital board, to get him admitted to privileges.
He was one of those persons who stand straight-erect, clear eyes, formally handsome. A patrician. He wore gray suits and tan coats. And a soft hat. He drove a two-door coupe, of the kind they called business coupes (there was no back seat). He was married to an Irish-American. She called him Rod.
‘The Doctor’ comes from the collection entitled 38 School Street (unpublished)
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil– Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.
IMAGE from http://www.funnycoloring.com/img/doctor-b3002.jpg