Q is for Questions

My father asks questions all the time.

“What does holy mackerel mean?” he frequently asks.

One of his friends explained the origin of the phrase — eating fish during Lent, etc, etc — but the next day he asked the same question. And the next.

“What are heebie-jeebies?” he asks, “and who ever thought of a word like that?”

“If something is ‘pretty good’, does that means it’s both pretty and good? And what about ‘pretty cute’?”

“What do dogs think about?”

To my children who go barefoot in the house — “Why don’t you wear shoes?” “Why don’t you wear socks?” “Aren’t your feet cold?”

To my tattooed son — “Why did you get those tattoos?” “Were you drunk when you got those?”

When we moved from Cheyenne, WY back to NY, our oldest son was just shy of 3. He asked questions ALL THE TIME. We planned to drive through the night to Kansas, and thought Philip would sleep the whole way. However, he talked for hours during that late night care ride.

I remember telling my sister about it when we got to Kansas because I was so tired.

“What did he talk about?” she asked.

“Mostly, he asked questions,” I said.

“Can I touch the moon?” “Can I hold it?” “Can I play with it?” “Where is that car going?” “What’s in that truck?” “Does the moon like me?” “What are you eating?” Where are we going?” “Why are you crying?”

The emotional and physical exhaustion of the preceding days had left me numb, and yet here was this little person I loved asking me questions.

Do you see the parallel?

It’s like deja vu all over again.

Undoubtedly, Philip is asking my father questions here.


P is for Presbyterian

Cooperstown Presbyterian Church

Both my mother and father were deeply involved in the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church.

From my mother’s obituary:

Perhaps most central to Elinor’s life was her steadfast devotion to the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, for it was there that she faithfully blended her love of family and God. A member since 1969, Elinor sang in the Chancel Choir, served in church leadership as a Deacon and an Elder, as Treasurer and Clerk of Session, volunteered as a Sunday School Teacher, was a member and/or chair of numerous committees over the years, and participated fully in the women’s association. A generation of young people will remember Elinor as the one who prepared the food for the weekly Thursday school gatherings at the Presbyterian Church.

I was going to say that my father did everything my mother did at the church and then some — except he didn’t sing in the choir, and I’m not sure he taught Sunday School, and he certainly didn’t participate in the women’s association. He didn’t prepare meals either.

But he WAS a  deacon and an elder and the Clerk of Session (I think). My sister, who is much more entrenched in the Presbyterian Church, could tell you what that all means.

I simply knew that he went to meetings there. A lot of them.

And he sold hot dogs at the annual Ice Cream Social.

From an old newspaper clipping on the refrigerator

The birthday cards from the church people often talked about his leadership, like this one:

My most powerful memories about you relate to the leadership you gave when several times over the years we found ourselves between pastors. You helped keep the ship floating and moving forward…

This was my favorite church story:

My most vivid memory … is of the congregational meeting relating to the arrangement of the pews in the sanctuary which were to be reinstalled after being removed for refurbishing. The temporary chairs used while the pews were worked on were arranged in a semicircle, and some church members wanted the pews to be arranged like that. Other members were determined that the pews should be placed in straight rows as they had been in the past. Supporters of both views expressed strong feelings, but you did a masterful job as moderator in keeping order, giving everyone opportunity to express their opinion, and guiding the factions to a compromise whereby the two center sections of pews were replaced in straight lines as before but the two side sections were angled to give an overall sense of a curve.

I can picture my father, patiently listening, patiently giving everyone a chance to speak, gently leading the way to compromise. Attentive listening is one of his super-powers.

Today, I stopped by the church to see the “curved” pew arrangement.

from the back

from the pulpit

The angling is so slight that it’s barely perceptible. If I felt strongly about the curve, I might have felt cheated.

Or not.

Sometimes it’s enough to be heard.

In any event, the church stayed afloat and moved forward, thanks, in part, to my father.

O is for Old

A Poem for Interns and Residents

To you, he is an old man
With hoary head and feeble mind
But look beneath the surface —
It may surprise you what you find

To you, he’s one who stutters
And struggles to find words
He knows the things he wants to say
But it’s like catching birds

To you, he oft repeats himself
In telling about his life
To me, his most repeated act
Was daily visits to his wife

To you, he’s hard of hearing
And he wears the yellow socks
That signal he’s a fall risk.
To you, he talks and talks
But you don’t listen —
You don’t know him —
You don’t care the way I do.
To you, he’s just some patient.
Oh, how I wish you knew!

In defense of young doctors, they really don’t know any better.

Plus, during this most recent hospitalization, my father kept throwing red herrings at them as he tried to diagnose himself for them.

My low point yesterday was sitting in the office of a woman I didn’t know terribly well, and bursting into tears. I simply wanted someone who knew my father to take care of him.

Medicine has changed SO much in the past 50 years.

I’m thankful there are still people there who know and love my father like I do.

People who know him love him


N is for the Nurse Practitioners

My father hired the first Physician’s Assistant and mentored the first independent Nurse practitioner in New York State.

I think he found the work with the nurse practitioners to be especially rewarding.  Gevie Kent, the first NP, worked in a rural clinic in Edmeston, NY. Others followed in other rural clinics, dotting the map around Cooperstown, bringing healthcare to the people of rural communities.

In 1991, Maureen Murray, a Bassett nurse, wrote a history of nursing at Bassett and included this, which, though it doesn’t mention my father by name, describes the role of the nurse practitioner:

In 1971, the Carnegie Commission studied the quality of rural medicine in the United States. The Commission recommended a nationwide system of regional health centers, including schools and hospitals, providing easy access to quality care for the nation’s people. In its report, entitled “Higher Education and the Nation’s Health: Policies for Medical and Dental Education,” Bassett Hospital is cited as the ideal prototype for the regional centers. As a result, Time Magazine carried an illustrated article based on the Carnegie Foundation’s report.

Nursing played a key role in 1972 when citizens from the nearby community of Edmeston approached the hospital for help in providing health care services as a replacement for a community physician who had retired. The issue was discussed with the hospital Joint Advisory Committee and resulted in the decision to select a Bassett staff nurse, send her for further education as a nurse practitioner, and establish a clinic with the nurse practitioner available to provide certain types of health care and follow-up visits for the Edmeston community. Consultative help and referrals would come from the hospital medical staff. Miss Genevieve Kent, RN, an Edmeston native was selected from the Pediatric staff to be the first nurse practitioner in the Bassett system. This was viewed as an experiment in the delivery of primary care and a possible solution to health care access in small rural communities…. Over the next 12 years, 12 more clinics, six of them staffed by nurse practitioners, would become part of a multi-site outreach network.

One NP told me, “I am so thankful for the time your father put into precepting me and the other nurse practitioners. The burnout rate today for NPs is so high because they don’t have people like your father to oversee and train them for as long as I had. He made sure we were competent and confident in our roles.”

Another wrote to him, “Thank you so much for your foresight and leadership. You have been a great mentor to Nurse Practitioners.”

Still another wrote, “Your mentorship meant a lot to me and your influence shaped so much of who I am now and my clinical practice…. I still remember how kind you were to me when I was new and how much I looked forward to meeting with you weekly.”

Another wrote this:

Dr. Pollock has been a sincere, caring teacher, believing in talking and listening to patients, showing us the small, redeeming acts of mercy. He reminded us to listen to our patients. He honored the shimmering mystery of what we are even when in pain, even as life leaks away. Remember the awe, the sense of being in the presence of something greater than oneself. Be a part of the healing.

And one gave us this that sums it all up.


M is for Mentor

If I saw a theme in the birthday cards for my father sent or given to him by other doctors, it was the word “Mentor.”

Over and over his fellow physicians thanked him for being their mentor.

One doctor said that my father was first his “mentor, then a colleague, always a friend.”

Another said, “You have been a remarkable role model to countless young physicians — certainly including me.”

There are many more, but my favorite was this one:

…Happy birthday to my mentor, colleague and friend. I don’t know if I have ever told how I feel about the mentor part — if not, it’s about time!

When I think about what it means to be a good doctor, and a good teacher and leader of doctors, the things that stand out as most important in my mind are the qualities of humanism that you have demonstrated — have lived and breathed — every day of your life — compassion, humility, science, altruism, humor, integrity, and an unwavering moral compass, I can’t think of anyone I have known in my 39 years as a doctor who more completely fills that description. So, though you may or may not have been aware of it, I thank you for being a role model that I cherish — both then and now — as you have faced aging with dignity and grace.

You are loved…

A mentor to many, and very loved. Yes, that’s my father.

No picture today. I scrolled through so many photographs, but nothing stood out to me.

I need to crank out another A-to-Z post, too, to catch up. :-/

L is for Library Book Sale

We have at least 3 copies of Grandfather Stories by Samuel Hopkins Adams — thanks to the library book sale.

For years and years, the Cooperstown Village Library has held their annual book sale over 4th of July weekend. Their large porch would be filled with tables covered with books, with boxes of books waiting underneath. That abundance of books overflowed onto the lawn where tents were erected under which stood more tables of books. The tents overflowed into a few boxes by the sidewalk labeled “Free.”

I love the library book sale. I still go every year, even though it’s now much smaller. I haven’t taken my father the past few years, partly because of mobility. The sale has been moved to the side of the building and is all in tents. By losing the sprawl and setting it on a slope, it’s harder to navigate with a walker.

We used to make it an annual thing though — the two of us waiting for the sale to open so we could be among the first to find the treasures there. I can think of few things more fun than poking around in piles and boxes of old books.

A few months ago, he was looking at all the bookshelves in the back room. “Where did all these books come from?” he asked.

“You bought them,” I said.

“I did?” He seemed surprised. “Well, I have good taste,” he said.

He tended to head toward the history section to find books on the Civil War, and then to the sports sections to find books on baseball.

Local history was always of interest to him. One year, I found a copy of an older book about the Loomis Gang, an outlaw gang in central New York, and showed it to him. He rejoiced, like I had just handed him a winning lottery ticket. Another year I found an obscure Walter Edmonds book that made him happy.

One year, he found a 1896 book called Max and Maurice: A Juvenile History in Seven Tricks by William Busch. Max and Maurice were the first names of my grandfather and his identical twin brother. Fortunately, the book was not about them. The story, all in rhyme, told of two boys who played horrible pranks on the people in their small town. In the end, they were ground up in a grist mill and eaten by ducks.

A gory story — but not a Gorey story. My brother buys those.

It’s not the same going to the library book sale without my father, but the books we already own are more than enough to keep him occupied.

In recent years he has read Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall at least three times, and probably from three different copies of the book, all thanks to the library book sale.

When he would find a favorite book, I watched him show it to the people around him. When none of them would take it, he would go ahead and buy it himself. I’m pretty sure he bought back some of his own donated books.

He couldn’t leave an old friend on the table.


K is for Kamp Kill Kare

The rock is around here somewhere, I just know it.

It was here last week. Bud picked it up and asked me about it.

“No,” I said, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with the Klan.”

Scratched on one side of the smooth rounded dark gray rock, the kind that’s flat enough to be perfect for skipping, were the letters “KKK.” On the other side “1945”.

KKK stood for Kamp Kill Kare, a boys camp in St. Albans, Vermont that operated from 1912 – 1960.

My father spent many summers working there as a counselor.

When he and my mother were dating, and the camp was in need of a nurse, he put her touch with the director and she was hired for the summer.

Here’s a newspaper page about Kamp Kill Kare that my father saved in his scrapbook.

A close up of one picture shows the lovely nurse:

And a close-up of another shows the riflery instructor:

But some of my favorites pieces from the scrapbook are these. A scored rifle target —

but the back of the target holds the real message.

And then there was this drawing —

Kamp Kill Kare is now a Vermont State Park. The Main House, shown in the first picture, still stands, and has been renovated.

If it was just a little closer, it might make for a nice day trip in the summer to see what he still remembers.

But it probably isn’t the same without that nurse.