I found my first baby’s first pediatrician through the family tree. My aunt had taken my cousin Jody to Dr. No Name for years and that was a good-enough recommendation for me.
It did not turn out to be a long-term relationship.
I never ever expected in those days, the early 1960s, that I ultimately would sing the praises of another children’s doctor, a far from expected, non-Jewish Westfield WASP! Imagine, if you can, almost 60 years ago, giving the care of your precious children to someone not Jewish. I couldn’t see myself ever doing such a scandalous thing.
Anyway, back then I never even knew a doctor who wasn’t Jewish.
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Dr. No Name, however, wasn’t exactly Jewish either. He had been born a Jew and he was relatively hush-hush about his change of faith. Except for some sort of Episcopalian magazines lying around his waiting room, and his proclivity for prescribing bacon as a cure for assorted maladies, you could pretend to ignore what he had become.
Anyway, that wasn’t the criminal act that caused him to ultimately flee the state.
Best to describe him as somewhat (okay, somewhat really doesn’t do justice to him!) unusual, but he was the perfect doctor for a novice like me. He was with me every step of the way, in every aspect of taking care of this delightful addition to our family. I had never changed a diaper and knew absolutely nothing about childcare. I had witnessed our dog giving birth several times, but she was definitely more proficient and had better instincts than your writer.
So Dr. No Name was my choice, and he was just what I needed — although he had one strange edict. No hats. The baby could go out in the most bitter cold weather, but she could never wear a hat. Terrified that he would drop us as patients, I endured all kinds of abuse after my baby’s arrival in October 1963. There she would be snuggled in her carriage as I pushed her to the Kaldare Supermarket on Clinton Place, and people would poke their heads in to admire her and then see that she wore no hat. Accusations of child-neglect still ring in my own ears, which were dutifully covered, although the baby’s were not. I never worked up the courage to ask the good doctor why he had issued this decree, but I will tell you these many years later that this was not the child in our family with the multiple ear infections. That distinction belonged to my baby number three, who was never under the care of Dr. No Name, and who always wore weather-appropriate hats.
By then, Dr. No Name had fled New Jersey for Maryland in the middle of one chilly night. I can only assume that he was not wearing a hat! Better you should ask if he was wearing one or two wedding rings, or none at all. This good, newly minted Episcopalian had two wives. Whether or not they each wore hats I will never know, but I do not believe the typical Episcopalian practices bigamy, the crime that forced the hasty relocation of Dr. No Name.
But I learned one valuable lesson from Dr. No Name. That was to treat myself as an adult. Hence, when I phoned him, I, a mere 24 years old, and he a man over 50 or perhaps even more, I would say, “Hello, Dr. Name. This is Rosanne.” He quickly taught me that I was never to call myself by my first name only. I was to identify myself as Mrs. Skopp.
I’ve since learned that this is an important doctor/patient lesson and I always stand up for not being put down. When a doctor addresses me by my first name — and now I am emphatically older than all the doctors I see — I always reply with his or her first name. I recently interrupted my own cataract surgery to do just that. He or she is a doctor and I am not, but, in all other respects we are on equal footing, and I prefer to keep it that way.
When it comes to deification there’s only the One!
So, one day Dr. No Name disappeared, never to be seen in New Jersey again, at least not by me. We needed a new pediatrician quickly. Recommendations came fast and furious. All of them were Jewish, including even one woman. I went through them with great rapidity. One of them made every sneeze into a possible serious illness. One had an evil nurse who made me wait my turn as my second baby got sicker and sicker in the waiting room, with a raging fever of 105 that finally was diagnosed as severe pneumonia. One of them was never available when I needed him. And then, finally, with four kids already, I found Dr. WASP. Who would ever imagine? I had really thought we’d have to move since there didn’t seem to be any pediatricians left.
Dr. WASP was, well, how shall I say this, very WASPy. He would tell me things that could be regarded as offensive, and really were, like, “I was born in Westfield. There were no Jews here then.” Wow. Was he counting?
But what was redeeming about him? One example: Child number 2 woke up in the middle of one night screaming that she couldn’t hear or see. Heart pounding, I dialed Dr. WASP. He answered the phone himself, at 3 a.m., with his reassuring voice, and I described the terrifying scene. He explained that this was likely due to the antihistamine she was taking, and it didn’t sound serious at all. He advised me to go back to bed and tell my little girl to do the same.
We did, and in the morning she was fine.
He answered the phone himself, in the middle of the night. I didn’t get the miserable message that if this is a true emergency hang up and call 911. That footnote to phone calls to doctors hadn’t even been created 50 years ago. I got him himself! And he told me what to do and stopped my panic. I didn’t get an answering machine or an answering service or any surrogate at all. I got him — in the middle of the night.
In addition he was a good and competent doctor, well-educated and loath to panic. He abhorred overuse of antibiotics, which he wouldn’t prescribe for a virus, no matter what. He was ahead of his time, in a generation when no one at all wanted to leave the doctor’s office without a prescription.
Nor, by the way, was he a bigamist.
These days, when I’m no longer in charge of pediatrician selection, when the only family members seeing a pediatrician are our great-grandchildren, I think Jewish selectivity is a bit outdated. The doctors are more likely to come from India or southeast Asia than from Weequahic or Westfield. My message is to be ecumenical in choosing a pediatrician, but not a spouse.
Comments? Send me an email at [email protected]
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!