Foreign Languages Overheard

When I was practicing pediatrics in Florida, I had this experience more than once. Some new patients wouldn’t know that I spoke Spanish, so often couples or a mother and a grandmother would be speaking Spanish between themselves, sometimes making derogatory or critical comments about me. I would just listen and not reveal that I understood everything they were saying until finally I would ask, “¿No sabían qué yo era puertoriqueno? (“Didn’t you know that I’m Puerto Rican?”)

Their mouths would always drop. I wish I could have had a picture of that moment! Then they would ask me where in Puerto Rico I was from. I would always answer “Ponce” even though I was never in that part of PR. We would then have a good laugh and they would be wondering what they had previously said. Most of the time it was just innocent criticism like, “This new doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”

R.I.P.: Costco Photo Center

When I recently learned that the Costco Photo Centers were being phased out, I wept along with many other photographers who had counted on them to create beautiful enlargements.  Let me explain why I was one of their favorite customers.

Until I retired six years ago, I was a pediatrician in Palm Beach County, Florida for almost 35 years.  In the 10 years before I stopped working, my wife and I had been traveling all over the world and I would display some of my favorite photos on the walls of my offices.  My patients were often surprised when I told them that the enlargements were done by Costco.

Many years ago, when my young patients and their parents began to admire my pictures, I decided to give them copies of my favorites in simple 5 x 7 cardboard mattes. I would order 500 at a time at Costco every few months.

Many patients would tell me that they posted their “Dr. Kraft pictures” on the kids’ bedroom walls.  I would make a geography lesson out of it for the school-age children.  Each picture came with the assignment to research where the picture was taken.  Some parents even shyly asked if they could have one from my selection basket. 

Gifts for kids in Bali

When we were traveling, I would carry an assortment of these simply-framed pictures to give away to children and adults in exchange for letting me take their pictures.  I have photos of children and adults holding my pictures from our trips to China, Bali, Japan and Peru.  It’s a great icebreaker!  When a hotel clerk or flight attendant has been especially kind, I also give them one of my enlargements.  It’s my favorite way of thanking them for their special service.  They often told me that they appreciated it more than any monetary gift.  

Until Costco decided to eliminate their in-store photo centers, their employees would ask where we were going next and when I was going to order another large batch of pictures.  That is not going to happen anymore since I’m retired, but I do have some new favorites which I will enlarge for my home through mail order.  When our traveling eventually resumes, I will continue to bring some pictures along with me to give out wherever we go.

Now whenever I go to Costco, I see my old patients who remind me of the photos that they still have from their visits to my office.   I am happy to see that this is part of my legacy as their pediatrician in my community.        

The Passenger Next to Me

I was sitting in the window seat next to two small children whose parents were seated on the other side of the aisle with their older child. (As in me/3 y.o./4 y.o./AISLE/father/6 y.o./mother.)

Seat configuration on the airplane

As the three-hour flight continued, it became increasingly obvious that the little boy next to me had to go to the bathroom. I suggested nicely to the father that I thought it would be a good idea for him to take the child to the bathroom before the plane landed.

The father asked the boy if he could hold it in. And then he made the mistake of believing him when he said yes! By the time that the plane was getting ready to land, the boy had a nasty explosion with poop oozing out of his shorts. It was too late at that point for the father to take him to the bathroom and he threw me a blanket, asking me to cover up the mess.

I reluctantly complied with his request, but I said to him, “The next time a pediatrician tells you that your kid has to poop, listen to him. We’re experts in this area.”

Our Recent International Travels

Ever since I retired six years ago, my wife, Meryl, and I have tried to check off the places on our international travel wish list.  Luckily, we made it to most of them over the past ten years.  During the three years before I stopped working, with an arrangement with my partners to work for two months and then take a month off, this reduced work schedule gave us an excellent opportunity to spend a month away from home in many different locations.  It also gave me a head start in getting used to full retirement.   

We live in Palm Beach County, the big blue county in the southeast end of the state.

Since we live in Florida, my wife thinks that it is criminal to leave “paradise” during our beautiful winter season (from November to April).  She reminds me that “people are paying big bucks to come down here” so it has always made sense for us to schedule our long trips in May-June and September-October.  We have found that those are the best times to avoid large crowds and the extreme heat (or cold) in certain places.  In addition, Florida in the summer, although hot and humid, is quieter and has less traffic.  You just need to know how and when to plan your time outside when it gets up to the high 80s by 9 am.

During the Pandemic, friends and relatives who know that we like to travel have asked me often how we have been adjusting.  After several months of self-imposed isolation, we have slowly been coming out of our cocoons.   We still have very limited in-person contact, but we have recently returned to doing our own grocery shopping instead of using the delivery services.  The social distancing and mask-wearing appears to be well-accepted so we are now comfortable in most supermarkets.

Costco, still our favorite

Going for even a 15-minute car ride now seems like an exciting field trip.  We try to schedule our Costco runs for the early morning “senior hours” when the store is much less crowded.  They have improved the flow so that you can get in and out in very short time.

Whole Foods Market
An extensive selection of cheeses from our favorite places

For a real treat with an international flavor, we go to Whole Foods where spending some time in the cheese section makes us feel as if we are on a foreign trip.  We have bought several Spanish and French varieties of sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheese.  It reminded us of when we had an extended stay in Valencia and Madrid and used to make tapas every afternoon. 

When we went to one of the local fruit and vegetable markets, Maria’s, we found that she had a large selection of Chinese and Thai greens.  This reminded us of the trip a few years ago to China and Thailand.   She also carries many Central and South American varieties of vegetables and fruits, making us nostalgic for the time we spent in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. 

It’s all comes down to your attitude!   If you adjust your expectations, you find that you can satisfy your culinary interests by learning to cook many of the dishes you may have tasted during your travels.  There has been such an explosion of food blogs during the last year that you can find the recipes for almost every type of cuisine.   With some determination, along with the willingness to fail miserably, it has been an amazing experience to learn how to cook many foreign specialties. 

Cooking together

Our trips to the Chinese grocer or the Indian/Pakistani store have yielded us with the ingredients that we had thought we would never find here in the United States.  With some advice from our Chinese and Indian friends, we are now able to recreate some of the same meals that we enjoyed while traveling to those countries.  A recent find has been the snow pea greens that we loved in China and which are very easy to sautee with just a little garlic and olive oil.

We have joked that our favorite restaurant is now our backyard waterfront café.  Until the cold weather finally reached Florida in December, we had eaten every dinner for more than eight months on our patio overlooking the lake.  It has been a lot of fun cooking together most of the time, and on some nights, we surprise each other with new recipes that we have found on the internet. 

Our favorite restaurant, overlooking our lake.
We imagine that we are on a cruise.

I hope that we will be able to resume our travel plans in the future.  Who knows when that will be?   Until then, we’re having a great time, trying to make the best of this very bizarre situation.   

The Other Dr. Kraft

Very early in my career when I was just a young pediatrician in Palm Beach county, I was in an exam room seeing a patient when my nurse knocked on the door.

“There’s someone on the phone who said she needs to talk to you, but I had trouble understanding her because of her accent.”

“Can it wait?” I asked.

“No, she said it’s very important. “

“Hello, this is Dr. Kraft,” I said as I picked up the phone.

“Dr. Kraft, ” my caller said with a very heavily accented pronunciation.

“My name is xxxxxx xxxxxx from the XXX spa in Palm Beach,” she said, expecting me to recognize her name or her spa’s name.

“I’ve heard about you from so many of my clients on the Island.”

That’s Palm Beach lingo for some who wants you to know that they are from the town of Palm Beach, the island off the coast from the mainland West Palm Beach.

The Town of Palm Beach, known as “The Island,” just off the coastal city of West Palm Beach

I did have a few families who lived “on the Island,” as they loved to call their ritzy enclave, but I already was getting the feeling she was mistaken if she was talking about clients in a spa.

“Mahvelous”

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“I wanted to meet you personally,” she continued, “since I’ve heard you do such mahvelous things with breasts” (with the emphasis on the word “mahvelous“). It was then that it clicked.

There was another doctor with the name Craft who was a plastic surgeon. Our paths never did cross in my 35 years in practice, for obvious reasons, but I always chuckled when I heard when a patient had been referred to me by someone on “the Island.”

I still have my own personal reason for laughing when I think of Billy Crystal and his SNL “Mahvelous” skit.

Billy Crystal




It’s a Small World!

A Memorable Personal Experience While Traveling

Before my wife and I went to India for the first time last year, I arranged with a few Indian friends to meet their cousins in Mumbai after our tour had ended.

The first one was the cousin of Jewish Indian friends from Florida. We have met many of our friends’ extended families both when they have visited the United States and also several times in Melbourne, Australia where the bulk of his family lives.

One of his remaining cousins in India was Abraham Moses. He and his wife spent the day with us and showed us several Jewish sites which we never would have been able to visit on our own. We saw the synagogue where our friends in Florida were married 25 years ago. They also took us to a terrific seafood restaurant called Trishna. It was as if we were visiting long lost cousins. 

Our friends’ synagogue in Mumbai
In front of the ark of their synagogue
The interior of their synagogue

Most people are completely unaware of the ancient Jewish population in India (once more than 50,000), primarily in the Mumbai area.  Their numbers have decreased because of migration to Israel, the U.S., Canada and Australia.  The neighborhoods which may have once had many Jews have been replaced with the Muslim and Hindu population.  In the picture, you can see how the synagogues have been surrounded by ramshackle apartments. Newly-constructed high rise buildings are often directly adjacent to the older low-rise tenements. 

Muslim tenements in the previously Jewish neighborhoods

Interestingly, the Jews in India have almost never experienced any anti-Semitic incidents as in other countries with a large Muslim majority.  Despite a large outward migration, especially among the younger and more educated, the remaining Jews do not feel any prejudice.   Historically there were many Jews in the military and the government, and the Bollywood film industry.  


The next day we had arranged to meet the cousin of my other Indian friend from Florida, this time a Hindu first cousin, Bakin, who also happens to be a doctor.

Dr. Bakin Nayak at the City of Mumbai museum

He wanted to show us some out of the ordinary places in Mumbai, and so when he met us, he asked if there was anything that we had not yet seen. We told him that not only had we seen all of the usual tourist sites, but that the day before, we had a specialized Jewish tour.

Immediately, his ears perked up. He asked me the name of the Mumbai Jewish cousin. He explained that from when he was a small boy, his best friend growing up was a Jewish boy who had left India after studying medicine along with him and who had emigrated to Australia. They remained friendly and kept in touch almost every day.

Melbourne, in the south of Australia with the island of Tasmania off the coast

It turned out that this Australian doctor lived in Tasmania where he practices psychiatry. His brother lives in Melbourne, and by coincidence was married to the sister of our Jewish Indian friend from Florida. We had met this sister during our travels there but not her husband.

Our new Mumbai doctor-friend was so excited of this amazing coincidence that he called his best friend in Tasmania while he was driving. According to his Hindu beliefs, this was a perfect example of karma. I explained to him that the same phenomenon is seen by Jewish people as an example of “bashert” or destiny.

Our second day of visiting “our Indian cousins” was also a tremendous success.  He took us to an excellent vegetarian restaurant after we had visited a famous stepwell within the city of Mumbai.     

We never would have believed that in India with a population of more than a billion people, there would have been such an incredible chance of this connection between two families from completely different backgrounds.

It just shows what a small world it really is!

Garlic and Other Pleasures

One of the best things about retiring from my pediatric practice was that I was finally able to relax certain food restrictions which I had followed for many years.  During my 40-year career, I had maintained a long-established schedule of working Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  Being off every Wednesday was a nice break during the week from the grind of a busy office practice. 

Garlic
Onions

My wife, who made most of the family meals during my working days, loves to cook with garlic, onions and other flavorful ingredients.   I enjoyed the variety of dishes but sometimes my patients would notice the next day. 

“Whoa!!!!”


“Ewwwww…, Dr. Kraft, your breath stinks,” one memorable patient announced as I was examining his ears.  He was an uninhibited five-year-old who didn’t hold back.  How can you possibly object to a child’s candor especially when you know he was right?  

From then on, I requested that my wife omit the garlic except on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays so that I would have a day off for my breath to come back to normal.

When I retired six years ago, my garlic restrictions fell by the wayside.  I began to cook alongside my wife, and I was able to eat spicy foods with less fear of offending my little patients when I would enter their personal space.  However, since I was actively involved in a mentoring project, camera club meetings and Spanish conversation groups, I became a little more self-conscious again about what I was eating while we were still coming in close contact with other people. 

When the Pandemic struck last year and everything transferred to Zoom, I was free once again to explore the ingredients that we had learned to love. Since we were cooking all our meals, we became more creative using these spices and didn’t have to worry about offending anyone sitting next to us.  We no longer have to hesitate using garlic, cumin and onions in the many ethnic dishes we now make on a regular basis. 

A Zoom call

Nowadays on Zoom, it’s not unusual to notice that your male friends have neglected to shave, or that your female friends may not be coloring their hair as often as usual.  But no one yet has noticed that I might have just finished a bowl of very garlicky greens or a spicy Thai curry.

Being able to cook and eat with abandon has been one of the benefits of our being in a lockdown.  And when we venture out to go shopping, wearing our masks and following the rules of social distancing keeps us from having to worry about whether our breath may smell. 

This is just one of the ways we have learned to find something positive in the crazy disrupted world in which we are now living.   

The QVB in Sydney, Australia

They say that music is the universal language.  It taps into the deepest recesses of the brain.

While my wife, Meryl, and I were traveling in Australia, we stopped in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), an elaborately renovated marketplace in the Sydney Central Business District.   Originally designed at the end of the 19th century, it was constructed in the Romanesque style popular at that time, with a central dome consisting of an interior glass dome and a copper-sheathed exterior.    Resembling a cathedral with its stained-glass windows and smaller domes on the corners of the building, the grandeur of this renovated building is impressive.  Its uppermost third floor is bathed in a rosy glow as light pours through the colored glass. 

The interior of the QVB

As we approached the third floor, I could hear someone playing a grand piano.  It was a young German man who had been teaching English in China for years.  He explained that he was a “regular” at the QVB public piano, stopping by frequently at the shopping center whenever he was in Australia.  A crowd of listeners had gathered, some of whom were waiting their turn to play.

A public piano in another city (That’s not me!)

I felt comfortable talking to the fellow music lovers and found out that there were people from Sydney who came here often to hear these spontaneous concerts.  Several families from Hong Kong and China who had been shopping in the upscale stores heard the live music and were drawn to the source. There were also some European tourists who had learned about the QVB piano on its Facebook page.

When it was my turn to play, I chose a few show tunes in contrast to the classical pieces that the young German man had played.  Since we were planning to see “My Fair Lady” at the Sydney Opera House the next day, my choices included “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”   As I finished playing the second song, the crowd had grown to more than 20 people, and many were singing along with the show’s well-known lyrics. 

I enjoyed seeing how much pleasure my music brought to this very diverse audience.  It wasn’t just the popularity of this classic musical; it was the sense of connection that familiar music brings to its listeners, myself included.   

As the next pianist took his turn, an Asian family approached me.  Their two teen-aged sons spoke English perfectly.  They told me that they were originally from Hong Kong and had moved permanently to Australia some years back. The boys were attending high school in Sydney. 

The older boy, William, loved to play piano and brought his family to the QVB piano every time they were in the downtown area.  He often came just to meet   people from all over the world.  Like me, he had stumbled on the piano by chance.

Coincidentally, we were planning on visiting Hong Kong a few months later as we were making our way back to the United States.  William happened to be traveling there at the same time to visit some relatives at the end of his high school year. 

My wife loves to say that I never like to pass up an opportunity while we’re traveling, so I suggested that we meet up with William while we were in Hong Kong before returning to the US.

A typical Hong Kong street scene

While there, William met us at our hotel and took us to see some of his favorite places.  We spent the whole day with him, using public transportation, visiting markets frequented only by native-born residents, eating in restaurants without an English-translated menu and going to places where tour buses never ventured.  It was as if we were visiting an old friend, all due to our love of playing the piano.

For my entire life, playing the piano has been a source of enjoyment and relaxation. When I am given a unique chance to share this pleasure with others, especially in a foreign country, it adds to my thrill of interacting with new people, which happens to be the major reason why I love to travel.

Music for me is truly the international language of friendship. 

Olfactory Consults

Olfactory Consults

Recently, much has been discussed about the loss of the sense of smell in the early stages of COVID-19.  This reminds me of my introduction to the art of olfactory diagnosis.

Almost 50 years ago, I was a medical student at a New York City hospital where some of the old buildings still had elevator operators. There was one woman operator who was known to the medical students (because she would ask us questions) whose trichomonas urinary tract infections were obvious as soon as we entered her elevator. 

As a practicing pediatrician for over 35 years in Florida, there were many times that I would walk into the exam room and I could immediately recognize the smell of the streptococcal bacteria causing the child’s throat infection. Before they even told me why they had come in to see me, I would ask them, “How long have you had a sore throat?” and they would think I was psychic. 

Don’t Be Judgmental

In the first installment of our new monthly feature, Posts by Guest Speakers, my son-in-law, Matt Hunt, wrote this piece a few weeks ago. I thought it was perfect way to start this new column.

Matt is a pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard and lives with his family in Sacramento, CA.

Matt Hunt, and his plane at the Coast Guard station in Sacramento, CA

It’s the season for giving, so I humbly ask that grace and forgiveness be given to me. 

To the residents who live East of the Northpark Drive and Opal Drive intersection along the small creek/ravine, please accept my sincere apologies. On many day or night runs I admittedly judged you for what seemed to me unreasonable or irresponsible consumption of what smelled like a Purple Kush. It was wrong of me to do so for several reasons.

Two weeks ago, I decided to sneak in a before-dinner night run along one of my favorite routes. I was up to an 8-9 minute per mile pace on the sidewalk when this little dog ran out of the bushes and froze in its tracks in front of me. I thought this poor little dog was lost and needed my help. So I reached down and quickly realized it wasn’t a dog, and he/she did not want my help. (Mind you the next part of this story takes less than two seconds to unfold.) 

In the darkness, I could make out some white fur and snarling teeth, and I immediately thought this possum I’m face-to-face with is about to tear me up. In my haste I quickly moved left, but the critter moved right. Then I moved right, but he/she moved left. We’ve apparently reached an impasse. As the animal did an about face,  I heard a distinct sound I will never forget – “pffffffffffffff.” 

I felt the spray starting at my feet, up my left leg, side, arm and face. I then I realized I had been sprayed at point-blank range by what could only be a North American skunk!!!

“Pfffffffffff!” said the skunk

I started sprinting away and cursed loudly as I ran past a gentleman on the corner. He asked me if I was okay and all I could get out was, “Don’t go that way – skunk!”. As I continued past him, he said “Wow, that smells really bad!”

The worst part was that I still had two miles to run before reaching home. With every stride, I felt the spray seep in to every pore and singe my nose hairs.

When I finally got home, I told our daughter to put Nanna in her bedroom, start the shower and search the pantry for anything with a tomato base. I got naked on the front porch and sprinted up the stairs and scrubbed myself for a better part of 30 minutes.

All said, I was able to wash off the worst of it that night, but I carried a slight odor for the next two days. The only casualties were my trusted running shoes and a silicone iPhone case.

To my neighbors at the intersection, I again apologize for being judgmental and for the aftermath of my incident. I ran past the scene the very next day and had to cross the street to evade the pungent smell. Y’all are true saints for sharing your extended backyard with our friends, the Mephitidae.

As we continue to encroach on nature, I have to remind myself that they were here first and their presence is a blessing!