“Do You Miss Not Working?”

In the past two weeks, I’ve bumped into several of my old patients.  When we pediatricians say “patients,” it doesn’t mean just the kids we cared for.  It means the whole family.   In order to be a happy pediatrician, you don’t just have to love children. You have to love their families too.  It is important to fully understand family dynamics in order to enjoy practicing pediatrics.

The question I am most often asked when I see people from the past is if I miss working.   It’s been more than six years now since I retired, and there’s never been a day that I wished that I could go back to work. I have been very happy staying busy with so many other projects that it is hard to imagine having to work at the same time.  Additionally, in a very practical way, I would have found it impossible to wear a mask the whole day.  It’s not just the problem of my glasses fogging up constantly.  If can’t totally see a person’s face, I would find it hard to communicate. 

I would hate having to wear a mask since my glasses get fogged up!

More importantly, the one thing that I do miss is the personal interaction with the babies.  I used to pride myself on being able to take a crying baby and get them to smile within a few seconds.  My staff used to call me “the baby whisperer.”  Interestingly, this never worked as well with my own children, but with my patients, I loved holding a baby in my arms, and magically, they would smile.

My favorite age of babies was from six months to a year.   This is when you would observe the early signs of alertness and interpersonal connection, and it was so gratifying to be able to tell the parents that their baby was developing normally.  Nowadays, the biggest fear among parents is that their child may be on the autism spectrum.   The incidence of developmental disorders seems to have increased over the span of my career (starting in the 1980s), and parents are relieved when I would reassure them at a very early age that everything appeared OK.  I loved seeing the look of relief on parents’ faces, especially first-time parents. Experienced pediatricians can spot developmental issues earlier than most people, and we are well aware of how very young babies normally focus on facial expressions such as smiling and eye contact.

In our practice, we offered new parents who had not yet chosen a pediatrician to come for a “newborn consult.”  These new parents were hungry for information and guidance, and became some of the most loyal and trusting patients.  The bonding that occurred from that initial visit and then continued after the baby’s birth is something that many parents recalled many years later at my retirement party. 

I was very fortunate to live in a very diverse community in South Florida.   There were some patients who were attracted to my practice because I spoke Spanish, but I loved the assortment of other ethnic groups that I would see on a daily basis.  There were families from many Spanish-speaking countries, but in my panel of patients, I had patients from India, China, Brazil, Finland, the Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam and Korea. 

Since the schedule of check-ups is heavily concentrated during the baby’s first year, I got to know the parents very well during those “well-visits.”  Many grandparents attended these visits along with the parents, so I would often become familiar with the extended family. 

An experienced pediatrician can do a complete check-up in a very short period of time, so the rest of the visit is left open for discussion about whatever concerns the parents may have had.  As the parents became less anxious and fell into a routine (especially after the babies started to sleep through the night after about six months), we had much more time to talk about other topics.  I was always interested in their native languages and their cultures, sometimes to the point that parents would invite me to visit their countries.

I was always interested in their cultures, sometimes to the point that the parents would invite me to visit their countries.

I used to joke with patients that I might take them up on their offers.  My wife and I have unique memories of Japan, Bali, Finland, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Angola, Israel and India because I accepted these invitations.  Sometimes they were there while we were traveling, but more often, we had the opportunity to visit their relatives whom I had met in my office.  Every one of those visits was a special personal experience, much more than any of the usual tourist attractions.  At first, my wife was leery, thinking that it would be awkward to visit people’s homes, as she wondered if these people really had been sincere about inviting us.  After a few of these special visits, she looked forward to the meet-ups that I would try to plan into every trip. 

Early in my career, I started to give out small, framed photos of places that I had traveled to.  The kids enjoyed getting something to remember from their yearly check-ups, and surprisingly, many parents would ask for their own “Dr. Kraft pictures.”  This became a tradition so I would bring along these small pictures on our travels as an ice-breaker or as a way of thanking people for their hospitality or other special favors.

In Bali, Indonesia, where the children were showing off the gifts I gave them!

I loved teaching patients about the places that were seen in my photo gifts.  I would usually tell the school-age children to read up more on the countries where we had traveled. 

So back to the question about whether I miss working.  What I loved about being a pediatrician was that I was often considered a trusted friend to those families.  Since pediatrics is a long-term commitment (in my case, 35 years), I was very fortunate to have met so many marvelous families over several generations.   Now that even though I am, in a way, “out of the picture,” I have wonderful memories and several long-lasting friendships to savor.

Not me, but another happy pediatrician! Photo courtesy of dreamstime

“Would You Get This For Me?” (Part I)

Have you ever been on a trip and someone asked you to get them something specific from the place where you were traveling?

On our trip to India last year, we had a few interesting experiences as a result of special requests from friends back at home. 

The first was from a friend who asked me if I would pick him up a specially-colored bowtie.  He wanted a “saffron-colored bowtie” which would go well with an outfit his wife was wearing to a holiday party. 

We took his request seriously, so anytime we were in a clothing store during our tour around the country, we looked for this special item. After checking in many locations, we determined that this was not something that was going to be easy to find.  We decided to wait until the end of our trip when we were going to be traveling on our own to the city of Jodhpur. 

Jodhpur is in the northwestern part of India in the state of Rajasthan.

As an aside, we often like to end our trips with a separate independent excursion.   After we have been traveling with a group where all the details are being taken care of by a tour leader, it is fun to see how we can function on our own within the country. 

We have done this almost every time we have traveled, both after cruises and group land trips.  Rather than rushing back to the airport to head home, we have found that this additional three or four-day excursion is a memorable way to end our time abroad.  We call it our “cool-down period” and it literally gives us the opportunity to slowly and deliberately enjoy a slower pace than what we had become accustomed to while we were with a large group rushing around with a tour guide.

After our tour in India ended, we had stayed an additional three days in Mumbai so that we could we met up with cousins of Indian friends from back home.  Then we flew from Mumbai to Jodhpur which in itself was an interesting experience because we didn’t have the services of a tour guide.. When we arrived in Jodhpur, we were met by a driver who took us to RAAS, a luxury hotel which was within a walled compound directly in the city.  We felt very comfortable venturing out into the city but it was a pleasure to come back to the quieter, protected confines of this hotel.

We began our search in earnest for the bowtie in many of the shops near the hotel.   By chance, one shop owner recommended another store down the street which was the outlet for a European NGO (non-governmental organization).   The owner showed us his inventory of ties and shirts but suggested that if we wanted to have something custom-made in a special color, we should visit the home base of the NGO and they would be able to make it while we waited. 

Sambhali: Self-esteem, Unity and Independence

The NGO turned out to be a group home in a large, converted mansion located about a half-hour outside the city. 

This converted mansion, known in India as a “bungalow”, is the home of Sambhali.

We arranged for private transportation (a motorized rickshaw) and spent the morning learning about how over the years, hundreds of women have been rescued from poverty through the generosity of European donors.  Mothers and their children who would have otherwise been homeless were given the opportunity to learn a skill (in this case sewing) and were subsequently set up in business for themselves after they had completed the training course. 

The women and their children seated on the floor where they were sewing customized yoga mats.

While we were at the home to about 12 women, we were shown their workplace where we selected the material in the specific saffron color. 

Cutting our chosen fabric to make the bowtie
Applying decorative henna to the arm of her colleague who was getting married that weekend.

While we waited for our item to be completed, we talked to the women who were busy sewing yoga mats for a Swedish donor who had traveled to India to see the working conditions of the women who were creating her product.  We also watched as one of the older women applied the decorative henna to the arm of her co-worker who was getting married that weekend. 

After returning to the area near our hotel, we visited one of the successful “graduates” of the program who had her own shop selling many of the sewn items. 

Sanju’s boutique

It was wonderful to hear Sanju’s story and to share her pride in having risen from poverty to a middle-class shop owner.   


We love these “authentic experiences” while we were traveling especially when they are spontaneous and unplanned in advance. This was a welcome break from the tourist sites that we had been visiting for the past three weeks.   These “field trips” provide us with a much more realistic view of the foreign country.   

In next week’s installment, I will tell you about the next request we were able to fulfill while visiting the same city of Jodhpur.