Prenatal Consultations

During my long career as a pediatrician in Palm Beach County, Florida, I welcomed parents to our office to meet the doctors before the birth of their baby.  Not only was it a great marketing tool because we were the first in the area to do what we called “newborn consultations,” but it also gave parents a chance to see for the first time what it would be like to come to a pediatrician’s office.

We scheduled these appointments at the end of the day so that working parents would be able to attend. Because of this, the expectant parents sometimes had to wait a while before we brought them into the exam rooms. In this way, they learned why there might be a wait before they were seen after their baby was born.

Parents asked every sort of question at these visits. One which stood out was from a father who asked me if I had a mortgage on my house, which I found out was his way of asking if I were going to be around for the whole time that his child would be coming to our office.  Since it was totally illogical, I was able to laugh about the question with him.

The wonderful long-term relationships that I built with many families over the years often came from these initial meetings. Parents often remembered every word I said. When I came to see them at the hospital after the baby was born, the connection was solidified even further. 

I do miss those babies!

The joy of being a pediatrician was in these longstanding relations of trust and communication with the parents.  It’s a given that the kids are cute, fun to examine and thankfully most of the time, healthy, but the bonds which form with the whole family are what makes pediatrics such a wonderful specialty.  In my case, these bonds were often established even before the babies were born!

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.”

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




Are You Pregnant?

“No I am not pregnant!”

One of the unwritten laws of the universe is never to mistakenly ask a woman if she is pregnant.  I learned this lesson early in my career as a pediatrician.  

It can take many months or years for some mothers to lose their “baby weight” after giving birth.  One mother, after I asked her the third time, made me write it on her son’s chart.  This was back in the old days when we had paper charts.  In bold letters, she instructed me to write, “MRS. S. IS NOT PREGNANT.”

Some twenty-five years later before I retired, she came to my office and we shared a good laugh about this. 

Sick and Well Waiting Rooms

An essay in the “World Through a Lens” series appeared in the New York Times Travel Section recently which reminded me of something that happened soon after I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida over 40 years ago.    It was written by a Seattle-based photographer, Richard Frishman, who traveled across the United States “to document the vestiges of racism in America” in a stunning piece called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Ghosts of Segregation.”    

In 1980, I was new to “the South.”  Having spent my entire childhood in New Jersey and all my undergraduate and post-graduate years “up North” in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, I definitely had preconceived notions of what it would be like to live and work in Florida.

When I came to South Florida, I found it a curious combination of North and South.  Given that there were many retirees from the North, many people viewed the tri-county area of Dade (Miami), Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Palm Beach as “the sixth borough of New York City.”  I soon found out that my county, Palm Beach, had an unusual mixture of different demographic elements.  On the Atlantic side on the east lay the town of Palm Beach was a mostly elite class of very wealthy people.  The middle of the county was a mixture of working-class and professional people made up of geographically separated whites, Blacks and Hispanics.  The majority of the Hispanic population during those early years were middle-class Cubans who had migrated from the counties further south. 

But fifty miles inland, the primarily agricultural area called “The Glades” was located.  Except for the small number of mostly white and Hispanic landowners, the population was made up of poor Blacks of American and Caribbean origin. There was a striking difference compared to the rest of the people in the county.  During those years, I often saw diseases among the children from that area that I had not seen except in underdeveloped countries which I had visited.  Conditions in the Glades were so abysmal that they rivaled other poverty zones in the “Deep South” of the United States and third-world countries.

I present this background because I was very naïve to the conditions in which I would be working in my first job in Florida. After all, I was a young, idealistic doctor whose sole experience up to that point was working in an inner-city hospital in New York and in a government-sponsored clinic in Baltimore.  Like most new doctors, I thought “I had seen it all.” 

On my first site visit before I was hired, I was pleased to see a new concept in pediatric offices.  There were two waiting rooms:  One for “Sick” and the other for “Well” patients. 

Later that year, when I entered my new workplace on my first day, I wasn’t prepared for something that truly shocked me.  As the office manager led me through the two adjacent waiting rooms on our way back to the inner area of the office, I told her that I was so impressed that I would be part of such a forward-thinking office with a two waiting rooms.

“Oh,” she paused, waiting to deliver me the shocking news.  “You obviously come from up North.  Those were the white patients’ waiting room and the colored patients’ waiting room, as it was back in the 50s when I first started working here.” 

You could have blown me over with that explanation! 

Naked!

As a pediatrician, I would routinely examine newborn babies in the hospital rooms where their mothers were recuperating from the delivery. I would always knock on a closed door to avoid any embarrassing situations.

One time, a mother answered the knock on the door with “Come in,” only for me to find her standing totally naked in front of the sink within the room (not the bathroom). She was shaving her legs and underarms with a total lack of modesty.

I quickly closed the door and told her that I would come back when she was dressed. “ Oh, that’s all right,” she replied, “You can come in now.”  I did request that she at least put on a hospital gown so that I could examine her baby.

It turned out that she was from Brazil and believed that covering up was unnecessary. I remember warning my male partner about this since he was making rounds the next day.

I was never put off by mothers nursing in front of me, but I felt that it was strange and somewhat inconsiderate for anyone to be totally naked when I would walk into the room.

An Embarrassing Moment

I was examining four young children in a family for possible strep throat. Their mother and father both accompanied them in the small exam room.

As I proceeded with the throat cultures with all four seated on the exam table, the father fell asleep, started to snore loudly and then, suddenly, farted.  And a loud one! And no one reacted at all!

I still chuckle when I think about that poor mother and those kids!