PEPER COLUMN: Listening key part of doc's skills
It was the late '60s, three days before Christmas on a snowy night in Ohio. Family doctor Richard Rhodes took a phone call from an Amish couple in distress. The woman was very pregnant and very close to giving birth. What should they do? Dr. Rhodes suggested they head to the hospital and he'd meet them there.
But a few minutes later, he saw a Volkswagen pull in front of his house. It was the expectant couple. Rhodes went to the VW and delivered the baby inside the Beetle. The doctor's wife was inside the house wrapping presents, so he requisitioned some green and red ribbon to tie off the umbilical cord. Once again, he told the couple to go to the hospital. This time, the Amish couple, plus one, followed the doctor's orders.
Rhodes started practicing medicine in 1961. He's still doing it, 51 years later at HealthFirst in Goose Creek. Technology has certainly changed, but not the doctor's demeanor. His secret? He spends time listening to his patients.
Doctor in the house?
Rhodes never wanted to be anything but a family doctor. Through the years, though, his resume reveals much more.
In the early '70s, in rural Ashtabula County, Ohio, he was appointed coroner in addition to his town doctor duties. Not long after, the sheriff died and he became the interim sheriff, as well.
He later was asked by boxing promoter Don King to look after some of his fighters. Along the way, he traveled to Zaire for the Ali/Foreman fight and later tended to Mike Tyson, whose broken hand was injured in a street fight. His experience as an emergency room physician seemed to be just the perfect set-up for this relationship. Through it all, though, he just wanted to be a family doctor.
When he was 57, he decided it was time to retire. Unfortunately, his house was across the street from his former practice and people often just knocked on his door saying "Doc, you there?" Retirement lasted just a few days.
He contracted tuberculosis from a patient in 1991, so he and his wife, Mary Jo, started looking for a different place to live.
The cold, snowy winters had taken their toll. As his lungs grew weaker, he knew they needed to live in a different climate.
A little black bag
Mary Jo and Richard found Charleston in 1993. They weren't here to retire, though. Since coming to town, Richard founded two different medical centers. He's since left both of those ventures and is once again seeing patients at HealthFirst. Now 76, he's there Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for nine hours each day. On a recent day, he saw patients with shingles, pneumonia, heart disease, fractures and a late- afternoon work accident that resulted in a badly bleeding arm.
Rhodes no longer makes house calls. There have been a couple of emergency walk-ups to his house in their James Island neighborhood, though.
He knows that some doctors have a reputation of being uppity and know-it-alls. You've seen the types: the higher the speciality, the lower the personality.
It still bothers him when a patient doesn't get better and he will still ask himself if it was something he did or didn't do. He also gives his patients his cell number in case there are any problems or questions.
His approach is not to treat symptoms but to listen to what the patient is saying.
After 51 years of practice, he still has his little black bag. If you peeked inside, you might find a little piece of green and red ribbon just for emergencies.
I'm just sayin' ...
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com