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Promises Kept

Microscope Credit: Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

Prior to my aliyah, I was on the Faculty of the New York University School of Medicine teaching both Internal Medicine and Cardiology. The teaching was an incredibly satisfying element in my professional life. It kept me in touch through the years with young people and with the vibrancy of life in lower Manhattan. This is best illustrated by the following story.

One evening I received a call from one of my students. His girlfriend, who had moved to the lower East Side in Manhattan, was quite ill with high fever which was unremitting. She was a sculptor and lived in her attic studio. She had come to NYC from Kentucky, was surviving to do her art on a limited income from waitressing, and had no health insurance. Could I suggest what might be done?

I always incorporated into my teaching, in addition to the exercising of thoughtful and rational analysis, the ethos of being a physician and of caring. The hour was late. I was tired and faced a daunting schedule the next day but, I had to adhere to the ethos I was trying to transmit. I volunteered to make a house call to assess the situation.

I drove downtown and parked outside a decrepit building on Suffolk Street. Needless to say, her atelier was on the fifth floor. Climbing the stairs with my physician's bag, reminded me of my youthful depictions based largely on having read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. It also fed into my sincerest hope that whatever was occasioning this young artist's fever would be treatable by one of the antibiotics in the bag I was carrying up the five flights.

When I arrived at the apartment and, having caught my breath, I looked around me and was struck by the disorder of discarded clothing, unwashed dishes drab furnishings and some of the most bizarre non-figurative pieces of sculpture imaginable. I was stymied in my attempts to assess the art.

In the far corner of the room, on a cot covered with numerous non-descript blankets, was the coughing, shivering, wasted young sculptor. Standing by her side looking both helpless and anxious was my young medical student. The relief he manifested by my mere entrance into the room was already compensation for the effort extended.

On examination it became apparent that this was a very sick young lady. She was wasted and dehydrated. She had a rapid but weak thready pulse. She was coughing and examination of her lungs strongly suggested bilateral pneumonia. It was quite clear to me that she required immediate hospitalization.

I was affiliated with the New York University Hospital located on First Avenue and 32nd street. At that time the emergency room was not a public emergency room but was for the private patients of NYU faculty. It was a given that she could not afford a private hospital, a private ambulance or a private physician but I was very concerned about her survival. I called a city ambulance and insisted that they take her to the NYU emergency room as opposed to the city hospital and I called the NYU emergency room to alert them that I was sending a very ill patient to be admitted for care as my private patient.

Over the next week, she received excellent care. The social worker organized Medicaid, the health care program for the impoverished, to cover all her expenses. She received intravenous fluids and antibiotics and probably ate regularly for the first sustained period in months. Her fever broke in 36 hours and her charm and personality began to be apparent.

After discharge from the hospital, I saw her several times in my office to make sure that the recovery was complete. At our last meeting I urged her to take better care of herself, eat regularly, and I wished her success with her career. She thanked me for all I had done and apologized profusely for her inability to pay my private fees. In parting she promised to invite me to her first "One Man Show" of her sculpture.

The story faded into history until 14 years later when, in my office, I received a hand addressed announcement card from Lexington, Kentucky. It was the birth announcement of a baby girl. Inscribed on the announcement was the following: Dr. Leibowitz, I have never forgotten your kindness. This is the closest I will get to the promised "One Man Show". 

 

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Wednesday, 17 April 2024

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