I am a retired pediatrician, so my standards of choosing a medical professional are different than a lay person.
Many years ago, I had to see an ophthalmologist for an annoying chalazion (similar to a stye) in my upper eyelid. After I had treated it conservatively with soaks without success, I knew that I would probably have to have it injected or incised.
As I sat in his chair awaiting the procedure, he told me, “This is going to feel like a little mosquito bite.”
It was one of the most painful injections I have ever had and I jumped out of the chair and told him, “If you can’t even be honest with me, I will never refer you patients again.” I could just imagine the little children that he would lie to, and how they would blame me for sending them to such a dishonest doctor.”
This incident further confirmed my approach with patients to always be honest about any impending painful procedure.
Patients really hate to be lied to, including when the patient is a doctor!
I’m sure that every doctor has had his or her “bad days” at some time in their career. When you’re exhausted and frustrated, it is not unusual to have one of those “Why am I doing this?” moments.
But for the most part, I can only remember one point in my 40-year career when I truly regretted being a doctor.
I was being sued for malpractice. When there’s a bad outcome in a situation which was totally out of your control, it is natural to want to assign the blame.
In my case, I was being sued by a patient whom I had never even seen. He was a one-year-old child who was sent to the emergency room by his family practitioner because of a “fever of unknown origin.” The doctor requested a pediatric consult and I happened to be next on the rotation list of pediatricians. I asked the emergency room nurse to contact the admitting doctor to find out why I was being consulted. When I didn’t receive a return phone call from the doctor, I didn’t go to see the patient.
Two days later, the baby’s condition deteriorated and it turned out to be a case of Hemophilus Influenzae meningitis, a bacterial disease which has since been eradicated when the HIB vaccine was introduced in the early 1990s. Needless to say, the child suffered permanent brain damage and I was named along with the admitting doctor and the hospital in a multi-million dollar suit. Unfortunately, I had the “deepest pocket” of malpractice insurance of all the doctors named in the suit.
A year later, the hospital’s malpractice insurance company as well as mine settled the case without ever giving me the right to “my day in court.” If the insurance companies determine that it’s more cost-effective to settle, they have the right to make this decision. From that point on, this blot on my career followed me. Whenever I applied for hospital privileges or when a patient searched my record in a statewide database, it showed that I had this judgment against me, albeit a settlement.
During that year up to the settlement, the mental process that I endured was one of the most painful times in my professional career. I went from loving everything about being a doctor to hating the whole profession. I despised the lawyers representing the patient, and even though I knew that they were just doing their job, they made me question my competence and even why I had even chosen to become a doctor.
Years later, and supposedly after enough time had passed for me to heal, I happened to be visiting a patient in the hospital. In the two-bedded room, I had to pass by the first patient to see mine in the adjacent bed. I noticed the name of the child and it was the patient who had been involved in the malpractice case. He was then 10 years old, and was severely brain damaged. Just seeing him brought back very painful memories of my one and only malpractice case. I found it ironic that this was the first time I had actually seen him!
One malpractice was certainly enough, even though it was a settlement and not a guilty judgment against me. Other than that, I can honestly say that I loved being a doctor! It was a privilege to play such a critical role in many families’ lives. Unfortunately, the complete trust that patients and their families used to have in their doctors no longer exists. Those “good ole days” of medicine are gone.
But I’m still happy that I was able to experience the joy of being a doctor.
While my wife and I were having breakfast out on our second-floor patio, we noticed a flurry of activity in the lake behind our house. We often have a morning wildlife show by the resident herons, egrets, anhingas, limpkins and iguanas as well as the Muscovy ducks and the noisy Egyptian geese. Sometimes we have a visit by a group of pelicans who entertain us with their diving skills. Once in a while we see a lone roseate spoonbill.
This morning however was very different! A few unusual-looking heads were bobbing up close to the shore and then four otters came ashore.
This wasn’t the first time that we had seen the Otter Family. Sometimes on our morning walks, we had seen them playing in other parts of the lake. Since they are known predators, they are often blamed for their attacks on some of the other wildlife in the lake.
This morning when they were right behind our house, they began to roll around on the sandy bank. The water level is lower than usual this time of year before the rainy season starts next month (June), so we now have a sandy beach. They were all playing on the sand, two adults and two smaller ones, presumably children, oblivious to us observers.
I ran downstairs, grabbed my camera, and headed to our backyard. I proceeded slowly, thinking that they were going to move immediately back into the lake. They are usually skittish and don’t like us humans to get close to them. But this time was strange; they stayed in place rolling in the wet sand and even looked up at me several times and made some grunting sounds. I think I was more afraid of them than they were of me.
After I snapped away for a good five minutes while I enjoyed watching their playful behavior, they took off along the shore. I was actually happy to see them leave in the opposite direction since I’ve read that they can be aggressive. I’ve never heard of any attacks on humans, but on the website of the Florida Wildlife Commission (myfwc.com), they say that their prey ranges from fish, birds, reptiles all the way up to small mammals!
With the recent migration of thousands of people from “up North” to Florida, I’m reminded of the adjustments that you have to make when you decide to officially become a Floridian. Since I’ve lived here for more than 40 years, I almost qualify as a “native.” I can still remember the “warnings” that friends and relatives cited when I made my decision.
First and foremost, hurricanes. Yes, they can be devastating to life and property. But they are a fact of life in Florida, but it’s never a surprise like an earthquake or a tornado. During our hurricane season from June through November, you worry about it but it’s one of those things that always is in the back of your mind. You learn to accept that preparation is vital and taking the warnings seriously.
One memorable experience was when I was on a cruise in the Caribbean. For several days, we watched on TV the path of the hurricane aiming directly toward Palm Beach County. It eventually veered north and we were spared, but there was a feeling of helplessness as we realized that there was nothing that we could do from hundreds of miles away.
I’ve been through many hurricane seasons in which South Florida was unscathed, but places like Alabama and Louisiana were hit repeatedly during one season. There were years that North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic states bore the brunt of the wind and floods, while we Floridians did our usual sweltering from our heat and humidity.
Another cry we hear from the Northerners is “You have no change of seasons.” After living here all this time, you learn that that is not correct by any means. Those crisp mornings in the December, January and February are the opportunity we look forward to so that we can enjoy wearing those old heavy sweaters brought down from up North many years ago. Although in March and April, the mornings can still be cool and windy, it will usually rise into the 70s and 80s by late morning.
Something that I admit that we do miss are the mountains. We even get excited when there is a slight change in elevation. There’s a sidewalk in our neighborhood which rises slowly that we call “a hill.”
When one of my daughters was only about four years old and had never been outside of Florida, we were approaching an overpass in order to get onto the highway below when she asked me, “Daddy is this a mountain?” I guess from her perspective, we were going up!
There is one place in South Florida in Martin County, the next county north, where there is an area in Jensen Beach called the Skyline Drive section. It actually has some steep hills reaching the summit of the neighborhood. From many points on the road, the views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean are excellent. It is worth a visit up there just to see what we desperately call a small mountain.
Of course, there are several garbage dumps that are affectionately known here as Mt. Trashmores. Some of these landfill “mountains” have since been reclaimed and transformed into golf courses and public parks.
Every now and then, we get these amazing cloud formations in the mornings resembling distant mountains. Do you agree? At least we have fun imagining!
Even though I have been retired for over six years, hardly a day goes by that I don’t see or hear from someone who knew me as a pediatrician in the community. During the pandemic, my exposure is limited to trips Costco,
the local Aldi,
and just a few other places. When my wife and I go for our morning walks, we usually see the same people who follow the same three-mile circuit.
This year, my TimeLine on Google Maps has been very boring. Compared to the trips that we were able to take during the last ten years before the Pandemic, the farthest we’ve gone this past year has been to a tree nursery in the next county.
A few times, while traveling, I have bumped into someone I knew from home. Once in Barcelona after a cruise, we were staying in the same hotel as a patient’s family who was going on the next cruise.
When I’m back home, people sometimes register surprise when they see me. One of my favorite encounters was many years ago when I was eating in a restaurant. A six-year-old patient of mine noticed me and I heard him say, “Look mom. There’s Dr. Kraft. He eats!”
Encounters like this always make me laugh. Those of us of a certain age can remember the days when it was an amazing discovery to know that your elementary school teacher had a family, or even a first name!
When I retired a six years ago, I wanted to satisfy a long-time dream of living abroad for an extended period of time. Although I had spent 3-4 months at a time in several different places in Europe, I had not spent more than a week at a time in Spain where I am fluent in the language. Our goal was to find a place where we could experience daily life in only one city, rather than just passing through many cities as a tourist.
As citizens of the US, we are limited to three months in Spain because of the Schengen agreement. This treaty allows Europeans free access across most borders, but it prohibits most non-Europeans from spending more than 90 days at a time within most countries.
It is very loosely and inconsistently enforced, but we didn’t want take any chances. We could have applied for longer-term retiree visas to any one of the member countries but this would have required a more lengthy and expensive process than we were willing to go through.
Both of us had visited Spain before, and while we had spent short periods of time in both Madrid and Barcelona, we crossed them off our list because they were larger and more expensive than we wanted.
We narrowed down our choices to Málaga, Seville and Valencia. My wife, Meryl, had been to Malaga in the southern part of Spain. Both Málaga and Seville boast beautiful weather in the summer and have large ex-pat English-speaking (mostly British or student) populations. However, several travel blogs warned that the transportation infrastructure in these two cities was not as well-developed as in the larger cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. We specifically wanted to avoid having to rent a car for the three months. We find that using public transportation is the best way to “know” a city.
The more we read about Valencia, the more it became our ideal choice. It surprised us to learn that Valencia was Spain’s third-largest city because relatively few Americans include it in their trips. After being there, we concluded this was because there are no direct flights from North America as opposed to Madrid, Barcelona and Málaga. However, since there are many intra-European flights to Valencia, including on various budget airlines, there were streams of tourists from the UK, Italy, Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries. This explained why we saw relatively few Americans during our stay in Valencia.
Valencia turned out to be an excellent place to immerse ourselves in Spanish life. It is ideally located on the Mediterranean coast only a few hundred miles south of Barcelona. It offers both tourists and residents a fascinating old city experience along with all the conveniences of a modern European city, including walking and bike trails and an excellent bus and subway system.
We loved the fact that within 15 minutes of our Airbnb apartment, we could walk downtown to the Old City, full of historic forts, churches, monuments, museums and other tourist sites.
In the opposite direction, we could go walking along the Mediterranean or swim in the warm water within a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride.
People were very friendly and we were never scared of pickpockets or other urban issues that plague Barcelona. We would often walk home late at night on deserted, but well-lighted streets and we were never afraid.
Valencia is located south of the region of Catalonia and consequently is an officially bi-lingual section of the country. What is called Catalán in Barcelona is known as Valenciano in Valencia. Especially in the old city, the street signs are in Valenciano and Spanish. Some language experts in Valencia argue that they are two distinct languages, but the differences are very slight and sometimes only in pronunciation.
If you’ve never seen Valenciano (or Catalán) , it looks like a strange combination of French, Spanish and Italian.
We attended many public events where the narrations were presented in Valenciano rather than in Spanish. I was only able to understand about 50% of the spoken language, but the written language was easier to decipher especially since I am familiar with French and Italian.
We loved going frequently to the famous Central Market (Mercat Central in Valenciano) in the Old City.
It is the highest-rated tourist attraction in Valencia. Since the city is within the Spanish agricultural belt, it allowed us to buy the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, local wines and seafood.
In the course of our stay, we became friendly with some of the vendors who offered us tastes of many items.
Imagine wine tasting at 9 am! We were able to experience some of the favorite Valenciano dishes such as sepia (cuttlefish), eel, rabbit and baby lamb. Garlic is used in abundance in the regional cooking. The ice creams and gelato of Valencia are delicious and not expensive. A favorite specialty in Valencia is horchata (or orxata in Valenciano) which is a cold smoothie-type drink from the chufa, a regional potato-like tuber. It’s an acquired taste.
The breads were hard to resist! There’s a bakery on almost every corner. The sign in the store written in Valenciano (“un pa, fet amb amor, es una creacio unica”) is translated as “bread made with love is a unique creation.”
Since my wife wanted to learn Spanish, we hired a tutor which gave me the opportunity three times a week to explore the city on my own. I would randomly pick an area to visit where I would walk, endlessly taking pictures. I love to talk to people on the street and in stores. I was particularly fascinated by the ease in which people conversed in Spanish or Valenciano, and how willing they were to talk to a total stranger.
The province of Valencia offers countless photographic opportunities. Within the city proper, there are many historic structures within the Old City dating back to the Middle Ages. One memorable church featured marks on the stone fronts from the sword blades being sharpened for beheading those Jews who refused conversion to Christianity during the time of the Inquisition.
The Turia River used to flow through the city and frequently caused massive flooding. It was rerouted about 60 years ago and in its place was created an extensive park which forms the cultural spine of the city. The area called the Center of Arts and Sciences features a collection of ultra-modern buildings by the famous Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava.
They have included an opera house, a science museum, an aquarium, an IMAX theater and a large residential area. The whole length of the Turia greenspace offers a great place to walk, run and bike.
Outside the actual city, it was easy to travel by bus, subway or train to many cities along the Mediterranean. The juxtaposition of the mountains and the rugged coastline was particularly beautiful.
We hope to visit Valencia again to visit our friends and the enticing Central Market. I can still taste my favorite rabbit dish with a 1 Euro glass of local beer. Next time, I plan on renting a car so that we could explore even more of the beautiful nearby surrounding areas.
Every morning, my wife and I walk with one of our neighbors for an hour. Usually we swing by her house on the way out of our sub-division onto the main road in the community.
This morning Lindie was waiting on our driveway as we opened up our garage door. In her hand she had a bunch of greens.
“It’s arugula that I just picked from my garden,” she explained.
“Can’t get any fresher than that,” I replied.
This reminded me of a story when my daughters were very young and we took them on a trip from Florida back up North to visit relatives on Long Island.
In their community, there are well-known strawberry and raspberry fields where you can pick your own berries. This is a fun activity for children and adults since, although discouraged, most people eat half of what they are picking before placing them in the containers to be weighed at the check-out station.
I can still remember one of my daughters putting a raspberry on each of her fingers and then proceeding to eat each one individually. As she did this, she asked me, “Daddy, are these fresh?”
Many years later while we were spending the summer of 2015 in Valencia, Spain, we used to go to the Central Market in the Old City (la Ciutat Vella) at least once a week to buy our groceries. The place is famous for the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and fish from the immediately surrounding areas. Valencia is right in the Green Belt of Spain, the major agricultural production area for so much of what is grown in Spain.
We got to know the vendors in the Central Market and we enjoyed sampling their products. Our favorite ham and cheese vendor let us try their extensive variety of different grades of local hams along with the famous Spanish sheep-milk and cow-milk cheeses. They always gave us a little cup of the local red wine which we then eagerly bought for only 2 Euros a bottle. Having a little taste of wine was always a fun indulgence at 10 in the morning.
Another favorite vendor was where many different varieties of lettuce and related greens were featured. Our favorite product was the Spanish variety of arugula (“rúcula”). In Europe, it is known in English as rocket lettuce and has a much more pungent, peppery taste. One day they were completely out of the arugula.
The vendor told us not to worry. “Be patient. The truck will be delivering it soon,” she said reassuringly.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“They’re still picking it right now in the field,” she explained.
The other day I was looking for a website for my wife to practice her reading in Spanish. We found an amusing site which showed us how much travel has changed over the years. The site, called the Cortina method, dates back to the early 1880s!. I was reading the edition from the early 1950s.
The introductory lessons were about an American businessman traveling with his wife to South America. “Señor Miller” was on a buying trip in several countries including Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina.
My favorite lesson described an excursion to a department store to buy clothes for a formal dinner. He was searching for a suit, handkerchiefs and drawers and his wife was looking for a girdle, long gloves and a face veil.
I was fascinated by how they traveled. After flying from New York to Miami, they took a steamboat to Caracas, followed by an airplane from Venezuela to Bogotá, Colombia and then from Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina with stops en route in Lima, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia.
They brought many suitcases including ones specifically for their hats.
Their reservations had been made by their travel agencies which involved sending the requests by cable or teletype. A uniformed delivery person such as Western Union delivered their confirmations to their hotel.
While they were traveling, they sent home “picture post cards” to their children who remained in the United States. Can you remember those mail chutes that were always located next to the elevators in the large hotels?
These stories made me reminisce about the first time that I went to Europe in the late 60s while I was in college. By that time, jet travel had introduced an eager American middle class to many European countries previously visited only by the rich. Hordes of bargain travelers descended upon England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and Italy giving rise to the term “Ugly American.” Many Americans complained that the people they interacted with were unfriendly and they couldn’t find any American food!
When I was only 18, I spent the whole summer working in a paper mill in a small town in SW France where no one spoke English. My family at home sent me letters by way of an aerogram.
This was a piece of light paper which would be folded into the shape of an envelope. It was priced less than regular postage but you weren’t allowed to enclose anything. My grandmother would write to me every day. In the tiniest print written with a fountain pen, she would fill every square inch of the paper, sometimes even spilling onto the back of the envelope. In large cities, you could have your mail sent to the local American Express or Thomas Cook offices, but in smaller towns where I was staying, you would use the “Poste Restante” system where your letters were held until you arrived.
If I had ever had to make a telephone call, I would have had to make a reservation for a “cabine” in the local post office.
Not only was it expensive, but the quality of the transmission was usually poor. I remember these calls being a minimum of three minutes during which most people would be constantly asking “Can you hear me?” There were two rates, “station to station,” where you would speak to whoever answered, and “person to person,” the higher rate which was charged if you wanted to speak to a specific person.
Can you remember what it was like when you traveled across borders from one country to another? For many Americans, it was their first international experience. Obviously, in Europe going between countries was much more complicated both because of language differences and the individual national currencies. Before the Euro was introduced, you either had to use a money-changer on the street, in the train station or at the airport, or at a bank where you would be lucky to find someone with whom you could communicate. Back then, you would use traveler’s cheques (spelled the British way) or American dollars and the transaction was very formal with lots of written receipts stamped in a very official way.
Think about how things have changed in the 50 years! Men are usually not wearing formal hats or carrying handkerchiefs, 2and women aren’t wearing girdles and face veils. If we don’t receive an email, text or photo instantly, we complain about our cellphone company’s poor service. And imagine if we couldn’t use our credit cards for our purchases or find an ATM for immediate cash from our accounts back home.
I can still remember carrying a “Europe on $5 a day” book and being quite satisfied with what I was able to get for that amount.
My wife and I still enjoy seeking out the bargains while traveling but it is no longer necessary to bring the actual book along. By searching the internet, you can instantly find suggestions for places to visit or restaurants where you can eat the best food in your exact location.
In almost any travel destination, it is fun to think of how much easier we have it now. Google Maps can tell you exactly when the next public bus will arrive in many cities around the world.
If you get lost, you can ask Siri or Alexa to find you the best route back to your Airbnb. And you can say something in English into your phone and receive an instant spoken translation if you would have to communicate with an actual stranger.
I haven’t met too many people like me. From as far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by numerical sequences.
Most of the time, I just chuckle inwardly and know that this particular “interest” of mine is not shared by too many other people. When I point out something that I find interesting, my wife usually says, “Okay” with that half-hearted acknowledgement that she does when she really means, “Let me get back to what I was doing.”
I’m talking about things like dates. Take October 2, 2020 for example. In my mathematical mind, I think of 10 x 2= 20. OK. I agree, that’s not really that interesting.
My favorites are the sequences such as 7/8/90. On that date, I remember waiting for 12:34 pm and 56 seconds so that I could ask whoever I was with if they had noticed that it’s 12:34:56 on 7/8/90. Most of the time I would receive blank stares with the “So what?” look on their face.
I once had a patient who was born on 8/8/88. And if that wasn’t enough, her mother was born on 5/5/55! I guess it was significant enough for me that I remember something like that so many years later!
Telephone numbers always had a particular fascination for me when I was younger. I was known as the child who remembered everyone’s phone number. I can still remember all the numbers I’ve had since childhood. Even the party line numbers!
When I became older and was arranging for phone service for my offices, I used to give a lot of thought to which available numbers would be “ideal” for our patients to remember. Suitable placement on the touchtone grid was somehow important for me (and usually totally unimportant to most others). For example, my first office phone number was 471-1144, all composed of numbers on the left side of the grid.
A subsequent office was 798-2468. This appealed to me because at least it had some visual symmetry. And I thought it had a nice ring to it when recited. At least I thought it sounded appealing!
When I was a child, my father took great satisfaction in watching the odometer change over to the even numbers such as 20,000 or 30,000. We actually used to celebrate those events as a family with special treats. When my own kids were growing up, I did the same with them. I can remember driving around in a particular parking lot waiting for the change to 100,000 so that I could capture it on my cellphone! I wonder what my kids were thinking when I instructed them to observe all the nines become zeros!
Nowadays computer game designers are constantly coming up with ways to stimulate people focused on the screen. When I look back and imagine how little it took me to remain interested, I have to laugh. If I still can get excited about a numerical sequence, I guess it doesn’t take much to keep me grateful for life’s simple pleasures!
I hear from friends and relatives up North that the first signs of Spring are now appearing. I can remember how as a boy growing up in New Jersey how much I loved this time of year. Now that I have lived in South Florida for more than forty years, I almost consider myself a Floridian. I wonder how I survived back then.
When April finally arrived and the cold, wintry days were in the past, I felt as if my body could finally thaw out. The earliest indicators of the new season were the buds of crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips that broke through the frozen dirt. In order to know exactly where to watch at the end of March, I used to plant some new bulbs every Fall. Sometimes this new growth would get covered over by a light dusting of snow from an early April snowstorm. Still, these hardy buds would continue to push through towards the sun and by mid-April, I could see daily progress, with a reassurance that winter was finally gone.
I can also remember asking my parents to come outdoors to see the daily progress. Every year, we would discuss our plans for what we would plant in the back corner of our backyard. The yearly trip to the garden supply store was a ritual where I could choose the seed packets for the flowers and vegetables along with the small tomato plants that I would eventually transplant into the outdoor garden. Some of my earliest memories as a child are from when I grew so many carrots and tomatoes that I was able to fill up my red wagon with my harvest to sell to the neighbors.
Now that I live in Florida, we have a completely different frame of reference. We may not have the typical “four seasons” of the North, but we can certainly tell the subtle differences from one month to the next. In this part of South Florida, it is rare that it ever gets really cold. When it goes below 60° F, you hear all of us former Northerners complaining. There’s a saying that “cold is when you can’t send your kids out barefoot to get the newspaper from the driveway.”
When I think it’s cold, my wife tells me to enjoy it. She reminds me that within a few months, the heat and the humidity will be back with a vengeance for our June-to-December rainy season. That’s when we have to adjust our morning walk to close to sunrise because it gets uncomfortably hot by 9 a.m.
Recently, we had what we would call a “cold snap” at the end of March when the temperatures “plummeted” to the high 40s. You would have thought it was the Arctic the way we were dressed for our morning walk. Yes, full winter coat with many layers underneath, gloves and a cashmere hat covering our tender ears. Our neighbor with whom we walk and who comes from Maine had a good laugh seeing us all bundled up.
Where we live, our earliest signs of Spring include some of the flowering trees such as the yellow and purple tabebuias and the jacarandas.
The mango trees which were in full bloom in February now have some early small fruits. The frangipane tree’s bare branches now have some buds and even some early yellow flowers.
On my back patio, my orchid collection is almost in full bloom. The colder days of January and February stimulated their growth and now we are seeing the results of our careful feeding and watering. Now I have an abundance of beautiful white, yellow, pink and purple blooms.
The bird population on our backyard lake is now in full swing. The Egyptian geese are honking like crazy performing their typical mating rituals. We even saw a bright red cardinal, a rare occurrence in our backyard.
Some of the iguanas are now displaying their bright green mating colors.
I’m very thankful to live in Florida. It’s a perfect place for someone like me who never tolerated the cold weather. Because we love to walk and kayak year-round, I am glad that I made the decision to move here over 40 years ago.
Although we don’t have any interesting mountains where we can go hiking, we do appreciate the seasonal changes of the flowers and trees as well as the daily wildlife show coming from living on a large lake. For sure, we’re never bored!