Goodbye to Doctor Rick

In March I received a letter that made me cry.  It was from our beloved pediatrician, writing to let his patients know that he was leaving his practice in the fall.  He had decided to go work full-time in palliative care with pediatric cancer patients, something he had been doing a day or two a week in recent years.  In March “the fall” seemed awfully far away, and while the news made me very sad, it felt remote.

Flash forward to Thursday last week, to Grace’s eight year check up.  When I’d spoken to Dr. Rick over the summer about our transition to another pediatrician in his practice, he urged me to make Grace’s appointment a few weeks before her birthday so we could have one last visit with him.  I didn’t realize that our appointment, on September 30th, was the very last day he was seeing patients.  I didn’t realize we were the third or fourth to last patient he ever saw in the practice he’d lovingly led for years and years.

Yikes.  I learned this when I got the office’s confirmation call on Wednesday.  Startled, I realized that the distant fall had arrived and my eyes filled with tears.  He was really leaving.

So it was with great sadness that I watched Dr. Rick interact with Grace with his usual blend of warmth and humor.  What I didn’t expect, though, was the intense gratitude I felt.   This man, I realized, was the person who had held the door to motherhood open for me.  I think of him in those first few weeks and months, when he was much more of a presence in my life as a mother than he will probably ever know.  I remember the call, when Grace was 2 weeks old, when I told him, through sobs, that I had just been diagnosed with post partum depression.  I don’t know exactly what he said to me, but I remember vividly feel calmed and comforted when I hung up the phone.

Just like that, from the very start, Dr. Rick made me feel I could do this.  He didn’t ever pathologize my initial, frankly violent feelings about motherhood, and he patiently waited as they subsided into the more regular, gentle throbbing of mother-love that I’d expected from the start.  He seemed to have anticipated this arc, and somehow that felt reassuring to me rather than condescending.

Over the years Dr. Rick has been an important supporter of my approach to parenting, whose commitment to not over-scheduling or over-indulging my children often makes me feel out of step with everyone around me.  I’ve felt his quiet but steady approval bolstering me when I feel insane or different, and have more than once called on him for advice in matters that have very little to do with my childrens’ physical health.

Dr. Rick has been a calm and non-reactive doctor, who responded to a call at 11pm about a fever fever with the soothing and nonchalant advice to administer motrin and call in the morning.  He examined Grace after she fell out of a Whole Foods shopping cart onto a concrete floor at 14 months, advised on flu shots (not a fan), and diagnosed dozens of ear infections.  All without batting an eyelash.  His relaxed approach, which evinces a fundamental faith in the sturdiness of our children and in the goodness of the world, certainly informed my own.  As I’ve written before, I’m a far more laid-back mother than I ever expected.  The lion’s share of credit for this surely goes to my mother, whose own laissez-faire approach incubated mine, but some of it belongs to Dr. Rick.

That said, Dr. Rick knew when to be concerned, and he has been, once for each child.  And in each case, he delivered his concern to me calmly but seriously, and because of his generally easy demeanor, I took his input and advice directly to heart.

Rick has been the perfect pediatrican.  I feel great sadness at his moving on, and know that all of us will grieve his absence in our lives and those of our children.  Just a few weeks ago, driving to the “procedure” about which he was very concerned, Whit asked me, voice wobbling, “this doctor is a friend of Dr Rick’s, right?”  When I said yes I felt him relax slightly, still scared but at least sure that he was in good hands.  Anyone who is a friend of Dr Rick’s is inherently to be trusted.  I feel the same way.

I am sure that the patients Rick will be treating now need him much more than we do.  I am equally certain that he is pursuing his dharma, following his path, which takes him towards incredibly difficult and important work.  I am grateful beyond measure for his consistent support, which was always gentle and firm at the same time.  As I told him on Thursday, leaving our final appointment, with tears in my eyes, he was the first person who really made me think I was capable of being a mother.

And that is an extraordinary gift.

Thank you, Dr. Rick.  We will miss you.

13 thoughts on “Goodbye to Doctor Rick”

  1. Great post. I remember when my first child, my daughter, was just a newborn we found a pediatrician we really liked and were quite saddened when we were told she was leaving.

    Luckily we found another one in the group that is very good too, and reminds me a bit of your description of Dr. Rick up there. The cool thing is that this doctor was my pediatrician when I was young. He must be getting close to retirement, though, so I might be soon facing what you are facing.


  2. Though bittersweet, in this age where it’s challenging to find medical care (where you really feel known by the practitioner), it was really, really wonderful to read this.

    Wishing you well on your journey to find a new pediatrician.

  3. I am sure there are other Boston mamas similarly grieving Dr Rick’s departure – he is the beloved doctor to most of the under-10 set in Cambridge! Sob …

  4. I drove my 14 year old’s friend to an activity in Arlington last night and he was telling us all about how his favorite doctor in the world has left his practice and was going to take care of “cancer kids.” Small world!

    You might think about having the kids write a thank-you card to Dr Rick — and you should definitely send him this column — it means more than you can know to see the best of a doctor/patient relationship in writing. Especially these days when every day feels like “Trash the Doctors” Day (when it’s not “Trash the Teachers Week”).

    Great, great column.

  5. When we moved, I was so upset that we had to leave my daughter’s pediatrician behind. It is so hard finding the exact fit and when you do, you want to hold on tight.

    Lots of luck in finding a new pediatrician. I am so grateful that you posted this, especially in a time when doctors are experiencing a backlash for all the things they don’t do right.

  6. When thinking of our upcoming move… we’ve kept in mind a radius around our pediatrician. It’s so wonderful when you find one that you love, and who loves your kids.

    Sounds like Dr.Rick has some large shoes to fill… hope his replacement treats your children, and you, well 🙂

  7. I can relate to this. My beloved pediatrician sent a note to all her patients indicating that she was retiring. I was stunned. She is the best doctor in the world. I remember walking in with my super sick infant at 4:30 on a Friday – she staying with me until almost 7:00pm and then handing me her home phone number in case I needed it. And her genuine, emphatic “call me if you need anything” was something I was going to miss. Her replacement was, of course, less.

    Luckily, I bumped into her at the store one day when she told me that she was starting her own practice – lucky me! Been there ever since.

    I wish you the best and hope that Dr. Rick’s replacement is just as great. I wonder (as I have boys), will you search for a female doctor because Grace will be entering into that dreaded awkward phase…..curious to know. Mine is a woman and my adolescent boys have no issues with a doctor of the opposite sex, but I think that’s because I’m a really open mom, and women are “motherly”.

  8. I’m actually going with a male pediatrician for now, having thought it through a lot and decided that I need a man for Whit more than I need a woman for Grace … if she is uncomfortable with that, I will consider switching later. The male pediatrician who is inheriting us (in the same practice) is among the more gentle and approachable men I’ve ever met, so I am hopeful he will work out for both. We will see!

  9. What a wonderful tribute to Dr. Rick. I second Robin’s suggestion that you consider sharing this post with him. I’m sure he knows that he is a good, gifted doctor, but he might not know the impact he has had on your life and on your approach to motherhood.

  10. This only redoubled my gratitude for my boys’ pediatrician who I adore—she too has had just the perfect balance of reassurance most of the time and assured firm guidance in the few incidences where things were truly scary (and yet much less so for her absolute expertise born of years of experience). I had always imagined my boys growing up and leaving her practice rather than the other way around… but it sounds like Dr. Rick will be doing some serious good where he’s heading.

    In an age where medicine is in such tumult, it’s nice to stop and realize just how much certain people end up meaning to us (I still very fondly recall my own pediatrician’s almost magical presence in my childhood).

    Lovely tribute.

  11. I can tell already that this is going to be a day of tears, and they began here at the breakfast table, reading your beautiful tribute and remembering our own dear Cambridge pediatrician, Dr. Hass, with his lovely British accent and gentle way with families. “You’re doing a wonderful job,” he said to me at my very first post-partum visit, whereupon I began to sob, having had no idea how very badly I needed to hear those words. Dr. Hass guided us through those first, intense years of parenting–and then he retired, regrouped, and went back to work, in the inner city clinics. Thank you for sharing Dr. Rick with us!

  12. It really is so hard to say goodbye to extraordinary people that grace us. We miss our docs from before our move a whole lot, so I hear you and feel your sadness. Funny how we connect, but I’m sure it has so much to do with our precious babies and wanting the very best for them. You’re a good mama, lady.

Comments are closed.