My dad, Dr. Lou Schopick, always thought of himself as a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. In a French restaurant, he would ask the waiter for "beef stew." (My mom, who spoke French, would hint that he might want to say it the French way: boeuf bourguignon.)
His language was also pretty salty, especially when talking about his fellow doctors, whom he didn't always admire.
Since he was my dad-and to me, not the wonderful doctor his patients adored-I didn't always listen to the things he said about the medical profession.
How I wish I had listened.
It was the 1950s and '60s, now known as the "Good Old Days." But my dad didn't think those days were that good! It was the time when medical specialization was just beginning. He told me that his fellow doctors used to make fun of him for opting not to choose a specialty. He loved general medicine, with its patient contact. He loved his patients. But his colleagues said that he was a fool not to cash in where the "big money" was.
But from what he could see, specialists left much to be desired. He was convinced that they were too narrowly focused, and therefore, couldn't correctly diagnose some of the simplest conditions. In fact, he was proud that the "big shots" often consulted him about their difficult-to-diagnose patients, and he would come up with the correct diagnoses.
As an aside, watching Marcus Welby, MD on television with my dad always turned into a race-between Dr. Welby and my dad-to reach the correct diagnosis. My dad always won.
But he wasn't a big fan of specialists for another reason, too: They didn't look at the patient as a whole person. "One day," he'd say, with more than a hint of disdain in his voice, "there'll be a doctor of the big toe."
His prediction has almost come to pass.
He also looked down on his fellow doctors for not making house calls. My dad was one of the last doctors to make them in our town of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He'd say, "When I see a patient in my office, I don't learn enough about the person. I learn about the illness. When I see him in his home, I learn about what makes him tick as a human being. Only when I know my patients as people can I treat them effectively."
Sometimes my dad's criticisms of the medical system went too far-or so I thought. One day, extremely discouraged with his profession, he told me, "I've seen surgeries performed on patients who didn't need them, simply because the doctor wanted a new house [substitute 'boat' or 'expensive car']." He seemed very disheartened. I was a teenager, and I thought he must have been kidding. Now, forty-plus years later, I know he was quite serious.
I wish he were still here, so I could tell him I understand.
One day he said, "Someone, or a group of someones, will come along to rein these guys in." (When my dad was angry, he used a stronger word to describe his colleagues than "these guys." It started with a "b.") "But those 'someones,' " he told me, "will be worse than the doctors they'll be reining in."
My dad foresaw Managed Care.
Now whenever I hear of terrible things happening to patients at the hands of uncaring or incompetent doctors, and when I experienced these things firsthand while advocating for my husband between his brain tumor diagnosis in 1990 and his death in 2005, I think of my dad.
I wish I could tell him that now I understand what he was trying to tell me.
I also think of my dad when I hear stories like the ones I feature in my book, Honest Medicine, about patients who are treated badly by their doctors for trying to take an active part in their own health care-or in the health care of their loved ones. For example, my dad would have felt so sorry that Jean McCawley and Emma Williams, two parents who worked so hard to get the Ketogenic Diet for their children with epilepsy, were mocked by their doctors. He hated to hear about doctors who were cruel to their patients.
When people today learn that my dad was a doctor, they often incorrectly assume that my advocacy work on behalf of patients, and my criticisms of the medical system and of doctors, are reactions against him. They couldn't be more wrong. In fact, if my dad were alive today, I believe he would say that I am "a chip off the old block." And I believe he would have been right, because the kind of honest medicine I yearn for-the kind of honest medicine that is the theme of everything I write and speak about in relation to our flawed medical system-is the same kind of medicine my dad yearned for back in the "Good Old Days."