This morning, I opened Facebook to find the devastating news that our pediatrician, Dr. Charles Martin, had died suddenly, at the age of 46.
And I sat, wondering - "Why am I sitting here at the computer, crying uncontrollably? He is, after all, "just" a healthcare provider, and yet I'm crying as if I've lost a personal friend."
And then I realized - Dr. Martin was our friend. I might even say a close friend. I am crying for the death of a friend because he is, indeed, close to the heart of our family. And his death has been a terrible loss.
Dr. Martin saw and held each of our babies within a day or two of their births. He encouraged me through the challenging days and months and years of early motherhood. He affirmed my husband and me through the beginning years of our family. And he has, through the appointments and conversations of five years, become our helper, co-conspirator, and friend.
A few remembrances.
Although I read voraciously during our pregnancy on the topics of pregnancy and birth, one thing that I did not research was pediatricians. And so, a day or two after our eldest's birth, I found myself telling my midwife - "Quick! I need a pediatrician!"
She handed me a list with four names on it, the first of which was Charles Martin. On the strength of that recommendation, I called him up and made our first appointment.
And that was that.
I found in Dr. Martin a gruff, plain-spoken man of intense personality and vibrant humor, and one who was deeply intelligent and deeply thoughtful, and with a true love of children and their families.
Very importantly, I found that Dr. Martin, unlike many pediatricians, had a deep respect for parental decisions and for hands-off medicine, and a passion for delivering quality service:
- He respected our decision to fore-go vaccinations, and never nagged us. Instead, he continually reaffirmed that, though at least (I believe) moderately pro-vaccine himself, he believed that parents' informed decisions should be respected and honored by health care providers. Many (most) other pediatricians are rude, condescending and contemptuous to non-vaccinating parents (some of you reading this have experienced this), either refusing to take them as patients or demeaning and scolding them in front of their children regarding their informed healthcare decisions. (Way to honor patient autonomy and informed decision-making.) Not Dr. Martin - he was the personification of respect.
- He completely supported our decision to birth our babies at home, and he loved our midwife. Just a few months ago, when we were in to see him, he paused in the middle of his exam and gave a mini-lecture to the whole room (which was quite full at the time) on the subject of why midwives were wonderful, why my midwife in particular was wonderful, and why all doctors should practice like midwives.
- He respected all other of our health care decisions that we made, without nagging and with complete support. He gave us the support that we needed as struggling new parents.
- He often recommended the courses of action that were least invasive to our children. For example, when we suspected that our baby had reflux, he said: "We could do a scope exam, but that is painful and traumatizing to the child, so let's not and just treat by food and elevation, etc." - which worked just fine.
- He single-handedly saved our breastfeeding relationships with both of our babies. Many pediatricians, unfortunately, are all too happy to sabotage breastfeeding relationships by pushing formula for any problem during initiation and then on the other end by encouraging early weaning. With our first, when breastfeeding problems arose, he gave us a feeding schedule that fixed some serious problems in 24 hours flat. With our second, when completely different problems arose that necessitated supplementation, he said not "Get thee to Target to buy some formula," but "Get thee to a breastfeeding store and get a breast pump!" And then, after baby had become bottle-addicted, he gave us another prescription which, when I got up the guts to do it, got baby back off the bottle and onto the breast within 7 hours. He also encouraged longterm breastfeeding. The end result was that our first nursed to 33 months, and our second to 18 months and counting. With many (most) other pediatricians, both babies would have ended up on formula due to my "inability to breastfeed."
- He gave plenty of time for appointments, oftentimes up to an hour when it was warranted. We had many interesting conversations, and he didn't hesitate to hand out as much knowledge as I needed or wanted.
- He spent oodles of time with us, over these past eight months, helping us to get started figuring out our baby's health problems and giving us guidance. At our last appointment, two weeks ago, he helped me to work out a plan of direction for handling baby's health care from here on out.
As a friend of mine said,
"Dr. Martin was like a friend I could talk to about anything, especially our non-mainstream choices. We were partners in my kids' healthcare and he always treated me as an equal."
Dr. Martin was a true asset to the community, an amazing man, and probably one of the best pediatricians in the world. We thank God for his presence in our lives, and we are going to miss him greatly.