Fleiss by
(90 Stories)

Prompted By Family Medicine

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Fleiss. Hmmm. The name might sound vaguely familiar to you…something about a woman…ohhh, right…Heidi Fleiss, the “Hollywood Madam” who, in the 1990s, ran an upscale prostitution ring in L.A. But what does she have to do with our prompt, Family Medicine?

Heidi’s father was Paul Fleiss, my daughter, Erin’s, pediatrician. And when Erin grew up and had daughters of her own, he was their pediatrician.

Fleiss, as we his patients called him — just Fleiss — was not just any pediatrician. He was very controversial, beloved by some, scorned by others. He was harmlessly offbeat and quirky in his look and office décor — a colorful Craftsman bungalow — but he also had some unconventional medical views about breastfeeding (he was all for it, and in plain sight), circumcision (he was against it), vaccinations (he recommended but did not insist on them), and the relationship between HIV and AIDS (he was uncertain about it).

Fleiss went to jail (for just one day) and was fined and sentenced to community service after being convicted of conspiracy and bank fraud for helping his daughter launder funds from her business.

But much, much more importantly, Fleiss saved my granddaughter’s life.

Leila was Erin’s firstborn, and there was a problem with her “latching on” … she just wouldn’t. By the time they went in to see Fleiss, Leila had become severely and dangerously dehydrated. Fleiss had them come in every day for a week, including Saturday and Sunday when his office was closed, and helped them through the crisis. The closest thing to house calls in L.A., even in that day and age — 22 years ago next month.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Wow Bebe, thanx for this story of your slightly eccentric but wonderful pediatrician and the special care he took for your granddaughter!

    He sounds indeed like an off-beat treasure!

    • He really was, Dee…and writing about him has brought back a lot of memories. Now I’m remembering how he used to wait for my daughter to be ready to be examined, or let me just hold her if she was being especially clingy, like the time she had a terrible earache. He really was a gem!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Interesting fellow, but right on the money when it came to breast feeding. He clearly cared for his patients, and good to know your granddaughter benefitted.

    • Yes, Khati, he was right on the money re breast feeding, but he also faced some serious charges in regard to some of his other controversial practices. But his heart was definitely in the right place…and he also offered free services to those in need.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Well, Barb! What an interesting connection to notoriety and yes, Fleiss had some offbeat notions of his own, but he was certainly there for your daughter (and granddaughter) in their hour of need and that’s what counted. I had my own breast feeding problems with David (more than 36 years ago); a story for a different day, but David’s pediatrician didn’t bat an eyelash, got me through it and I successfully nursed him for a year. In less than a month, he will be a father! We rely on those doctors in our hour of need. I’m so glad Fleiss came through for your family.

    • You’re so right, Betsy. Good pediatricians play an important role not only in physical health care but emotional support, and often in nurturing the relationship between parent and child. And so many of them, like Fleiss, end up treating the next generation as well. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in the continuity.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    It’s the caring and dedication that matter so much. Even a quirky doctor can make a huge impact if he is there for you, or in this case, your daughter and granddaughter.

    • I also remember that he made me feel like I was the best mother in the world, and he did the same thing with my daughter. She felt a certain amount of guilt over what happened with Leila, but he was very reassuring and supportive.

  5. Marian says:

    Wow, Barb, you had a notable father as your daughter’s pediatrician. He does sound quirky, but in your case his dedication paid off and he knew what to do. I’m glad you wrote about him!

    • Thanks, Mare. He was quirky all right…he used to tell us to put breast milk up our baby’s nose to treat a cold or infection, and it actually did clear up the mucous!

      • Marian says:

        However bizarre that breast milk treatment seems, there could be method behind it, given all the antibodies in breast milk that could fight infections. There had to be a better way, though.

        • I guess it’s not so bizarre…just found this on healthline.com: “Use a dropper to insert a couple of drops directly into baby’s nose. Similarly to saline drops, breast milk can help break up mucus, and its antiviral properties may help treat the cold.”

          Who knew. Well, Fleiss knew. And so did you.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Barb! You have so many interesting connections, it shouldn’t be a surprise that your pediatrician was Heidi Fleiss’ father. Did you photoshop him in front of that green house, and was it really his office? (If you don’t want to reveal your tricks, you can delete that sentence, and this one too.)

    • LOL, Suzy! I love that you asked about that, and although I didn’t do the Photoshopping, someone else did and I borrowed it. But the thing is, they made a mistake which I was about to remedy but said to myself, “Oh, never mind, no one will notice,” but now I just have to point it out: I think they inadvertently erased part of the cord to his glasses under his right ear (to our left) and/or his stethoscope, and I don’t know what’s going on with that odd band or shadow under his neck but it looks like he’s about to hang himself. If I can’t sleep (which happens a lot since I’ve had terrible insomnia lately), I may just get up in the middle of the night and fix it.

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