My experiences in response to this prompt are probably very different from those of many other Retro writers, but, I think, fairly routine for a certain subset of us, and others of our generation. I speak of those of us who are the children of doctors (“COD”).
My father was a doctor – an orthopedic surgeon — and very much a doctor at all times. He certainly looked “doctorly,” and I was even able to find, and use as the featured image, a picture of of him wearing his uber-doctorish white lab coat. He finally retired at age 80, and was for a good number of years thereafter an unhappily retired doctor more than anything else. But, to me, even then he still oozed of his former profession (“doctrinaire?”).
In any event, being a COD – for which one could take neither responsibility nor blame – had both good points and bad points for a kid. I spell some of them out below:
- * When you were sick or injured, you were given the best possible medical care from not just your parent/doctor, but from all doctors. And quite likely obsessive care from the doctor in your house. I learned this early on when I had the croup (see recent story). My father watched over me seemingly every moment and, when I had to go to the hospital, other doctors dropped in all the time (despite the steam-filled room), probably for no other reason than to be able to tell my father that they had checked on me. Similarly, when I broke my leg skiing when I was six – a routine break – I think my father had so many x-rays taken it is amazing my leg doesn’t glow in the dark now. And he changed my cast – a tedious process for both of us – any number of times. As a result of all this TLC, until I was much older, I never realized just how difficult it is to get timely access to a doctor, particularly on an emergency basis. Indeed, a recent 8-hour visit to a local emergency room for my wife – her primary care physician could not see her on an immediate basis and her staff advised us to do this – confirmed this grim fact.
- * Same with getting vaccines. As I also mentioned in my COVID story, my brother and I not only got our three Salk vaccine shots for polio as soon as possible, but my father insisted on two additional boosters, and then the Sabin oral vaccine when that was available. I always knew that, if there was a shot to be had, it would end up in my arm or my butt pretty soon. I hated it.
- * Conversely, when you were not sick, you got no breaks. I was never able to fake my way out of going to school claiming illness. My father could always tell that I was OK and sternly sent me onto the bus. Ultimately, I went the other way and decided to pride myself on having a perfect attendance record throughout high school. Making lemonade out of lemons, as we have recently addressed, no?
- * Moreover, forget about routine physical exams growing up. I never had them. Whenever I got a form from school requiring such an exam, rather than give me one, my father would proclaim that I was fine (“If there were something wrong with you, I’d know it”), fill in all the blanks in the form and either sign it himself or have one of his medical partners sign it, presumably to make it look more legitimate. As a result, the first full physical I had was in my sophomore year of college, when it was required for intramural contact sports and it had to be taken at the college infirmary. Ironically, I was the placekicker for our residential house football team — using my perfectly healed/previously broken right leg. Although we played tackle and wore full equipment, as any football fan knows, the placekicker typically makes sure to avoid any contact whatsoever. I was no exception and tried mightily not to go anywhere near a tackle, while reminding others of the steep penalties for roughing the kicker. Nonetheless, I had had my first actual physical — and was, of course, fine.
- * Besides finding it difficult to get appointments with doctors once I graduated from law school and moved away from home — where I had often been known simply as “Dr. Shutkin’s son” — I also learned that medical care is really expensive, even with health care insurance. Further, growing up (and I am not sure if this is a thing anymore), “professional courtesy” was always extended to immediate family members of other doctors, and all fees were waived. My mother even continued to get it after she and my father were divorced; she was then “Dr. Shutkin’s former wife.” Sadly, there is no grandfather clause (or, more literally, “father clause”) to continue it indefinitely.
- * I particularly recall a myth among my non-COD classmates in grade school that “doctors couldn’t get sick.” Why? Well, “because they were doctors,” or so the faux logic went. Even when I would tell classmates that my father, the doctor, was sick, they wouldn’t believe me; it just couldn’t happen, they insisted. As I think about it now, maybe this also explains Trumpism.
- * Finally, my sense is that, more than with any other profession, COD were supposed to become doctors themselves. I am not sure why this is or was. In any event, it certainly never followed for either my brother or me. We had no particular interest in medicine and our father did nothing to encourage us. Ironically, even sixty years later, I recall him saying to me, “Son; don’t be a doctor. Too much paperwork.” I actually think he loved being the only doctor in our family (or at least immediate family; his uncle and cousin were also doctors). And, again, he was, for me, a terrific doctor. At least if and when I truly needed one. And he was always the judge of that.