Family, Memoirs.

Doctor Dad . . . Irreplaceable

-Family, Ruth Wiebe

Attrib: Ruth Wiebe, Family.

My Dad, Tony Wiebe, retired as a family physician nearly twelve years ago, in 2000. He was my personal physician for most of his practice, as well as my family.

During the course of his forty two years of practice, he had always taken care of family members, immediate and extended, with the greatest generosity. Dad was always available for family, 24 x 7, and family members were never charged for his services. He would get up at any time of the night and go to someone’s house or meet them at his clinic when he received a call for help, whether from within his household or via the telephone.

-Family,

Family.

He graduated from the University of Oregon Medical School (now Oregon Health Sciences University) in 1957, and after a year of internship at a Portland hospital, became a licensed physician in Oregon. In those days, there were no specialty boards for family medicine, so he started practicing medicine immediately . . . in the U.S. Army. Dad had a student deferment from the draft for military service, so after finishing his internship, he was drafted into the U.S. Army as a flight surgeon. He and my Mom by this time had four children, so we all tagged along to various military bases in the next four years while Dad served. He was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, where Army doctors receive their military orientation. Subsequently he was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, for flight training to become a pilot, both for light observation airplanes and helicopters; since they had assigned him to flight surgeon duty, and flight surgeons had to be qualified pilots themselves. He was subsequently assigned for duty in Germany, and was stationed at three different posts for the remainder of his service, first in Stuttgart, next in Illesheim, near Nürnberg, and last in Bad Kreuznach in the Rheinland-Pfalz.

As a young child, it was reassuring to know that Dad was always there watching over our health. His children experienced many of the typical childhood traumas and diseases, big and small, and Dad took care of or was involved in all of them.

-Family,

Family.

My earliest memory of Dad as physician was in Germany, when we lived in Stuttgart. My Mom had gone to the military hospital in Bad Cannstatt for the birth and delivery of my brother Craig. Craig was born on the morning of July 11, 1959, and on that same afternoon, I, a reckless six year old, dashed out into the road from between two parked cars, right into the path of an oncoming car, and was struck and then dragged by the car until it stopped. Fortunately, it was a fifteen mile an hour zone, and the woman who was driving was actually doing the speed limit (my Dad joked later that I was lucky to be hit by the only person on base who observed the speed limit), but while being dragged, a good deal of my left arm was shredded by the road, and it was a bloody mess. Dad showed up about ten minutes after it happened, and immediately reassured me that I would be alright, bundled me in the car with my brother Steve, and raced us off to the hospital. My arm was wrapped in a towel, and my clothes were soaked with blood, so while we drove, my Dad made my brother Steve take off his shirt and pants, remove my shirt and pants, and dress me in his clothing. Steve was mortified to be in public in only his underwear. When we arrived at the hospital my Mom, who was as yet unaware of the situation, happened to be gazing out of her window, and saw my Dad pull up, and carry me out of the car into the hospital. She asked the nurse to find out what was going on, and the nurse reported back that it was nothing, just a scratch, which did nothing to reassure my Mom. In the meantime, Dad handed me off to the surgical staff, who knocked me out and stitched up my arm with forty-eight wire stitches. He was there when I came to, again reassuring me with his presence, and his encouraging words, and I survived the experience with no more than a very large scar that I could show off to my friends.

Returning from Germany, Dad joined a local family practice in North Portland, where he stayed for the remainder of his career.

Dad saw us all through more cuts and bruises and stitched up more gashes than can be counted. The most memorable skin repair I received was around age twelve, when I managed to acquire a gash on top of my head. I well knew the drill: I called Dad, who told me to come on up to his clinic, and he took a look, cleaned the wound, and started to pull out a local anesthetic before pausing, looking at me to say: “You know, son, this area of your scalp doesn’t have as many pain receptors as usual, so it might be less painful for you if I just stitch it up without anesthesia. Your choice.” Having had too much experience with this procedure already, I knew that the application of the local anesthetic, usually lidocaine, could be a little protracted, and would produce multiple sharp stinging sensations before the skin became numb, so I pondered the tradeoff between sharp stings from the local against sharp stings from a needle being poked through my skin, and decided that if Dad thought that this was a good idea, why not? My assessment after it was over was that it was less painful in that instance by virtue of foregoing the anesthesia, although I still wonder whether it seemed so because I trusted my Dad to do me right.

Besides a car accident and many cuts and bruises, Dad saw me through broken fingers and toes, a broken hand, a double pneumonia, asthma, a tonsilectomy, the usual childhood diseases, and full on anaphylactic shock from the ingestion of shrimp (ah, the instant relief of epinephrine!) and as a I became an adult, saw me through various athletic injuries and a hiatal hernia. In every instance, he was there, gracious and ready to care for me, all without any expectation of reward.

When I was a teenager, I would sometimes accompany my Dad for his rounds on the weekend, where he checked up on his hospitalized patients, or on his rounds in various nursing homes, or on house calls he made outside of office hours. Dad was a careful listener, and had a good bedside manner. His patients were comfortable in his presence. Sometimes when I would accompany Dad to the board store (Dad’s term for the old lumber yards) or to the grocery store, he would run across some of his patients, who greeted him happily, and who received a gracious greeting in return; this gave me a sense of his impact on the lives of people in our community.

When I got married, Dad continued to care for me and my family, shepherding my boys through their own childhood diseases and traumas, and advised my wife during her pregnancies.

Dad did this for all of my siblings, too, and for the extended Wiebe family, also, when they lived near us. When Dad finally retired, I was at a loss to find another physician that I could place the kind of trust that I felt for my Dad. Recently, at Dad’s eightieth birthday party, I mentioned to everyone this conondrum, and it seemed that many of us felt that way.

After Dad retired, he no longer felt comfortable providing care for the family, as he felt that without regular practice he could not remain at the top of his game. Dad continues to volunteer his medical services on occasion, going off to places like Moldova and Kenya to provide help for disadvantaged people; he and my Mom, sister and niece are due to travel to Kenya soon to provide some medical care for an orphanage there.

While I have continued to receive good care from other doctors following Dad’s retirement, I will always feel a twinge of loss, knowing I had the best care in the world, and that my Dad the doctor, is, in my heart, irreplaceable.

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