Who the hell cries over a doctor shutting down a practice?
Well…I’m not alone. There’s a few hundred of us grieving right now. We’re having to face the loss of a woman whose presence in our lives and our community goes beyond a doctor/patient relationship. We’re losing a woman of substance and virtue who champions us with enthusiasm, wisdom, authenticity and love.
When I moved to this small island 34 years ago and discovered a female doctor, I phoned and made an appointment. Nothing to it. No questions. No “meet and greet” session. I simply showed up for the appointment so Dr. Levitt and I could pursue the business of minding my health.
About four years later, Dr. Levitt left the island. Being in my 30s, it was of little concern. Besides, I simply stayed with Dr. Levitt’s replacement, Dr. Jan MacPhail.
Besides an opportunity to set up her own practice, Dr. Jan looked forward to some West Coast living and sailing with Tony, her university professor husband. Tony took a sabbatical from his professorial career to help Jan build her practice. After a decade, Tony returned to his work at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Tony and Dr. Jan maintained their marriage through distance and time – even before the internet. They even decided to begin a family. About 18 years ago, Jan gave birth to their son. Thereafter, Jan took leaves for significant periods of time so Tony and she could parent the young lad during his early years and, later, during school holidays.
Dr. Jan informed us months ago that she would be joining Tony in Thunder Bay after their son’s high school graduation. This June, I watched the young man proudly perform one of his musical pieces as part of his graduation class ceremony. I watched with “patient’s pride” – if there is such a thing – but it ripped a hole in my denial. Jan really would be leaving us now.
Besides being a phenomenal doctor who reduced fear while building character, Jan made significant medical contributions within our Province. Two examples – teaching other doctors about Women’s Menopause and supporting OPT (Options for Sexual Health) which now has 60 clinics operating in the Province. Hearing from various people within the medical community, gratitude for her teaching skills abound.
Jan loves music and even played the bagpipes in the Island’s Pipe Band. I would see her at different island events and each time I saw her performing, pride roared through me as though she was my sister.
Last night, the OPT team held a farewell function to honour Dr. Jan MacPhail’s incredible contribution to the sexual health of our society. They invited the community to come to the gathering. Most of the non-medical people present were her patients. The hall was packed.
Since Jan was the first speaker to be introduced, I watched the audience as she organized herself at the podium. Rows of people stood in a semi-circle, completely quiet, almost every person wearing a solemn expression. One face stood out – a beaming one, bearing beard and mustache – unmistakeably a professor and loving husband. Beside him was the expectant face of a proud young man bearing many of Jan’s features.
Tears welled and I realized how many would be carrying the same dread. Not one of the other doctors on the island has room for more patients. In the audience, I saw some of Jan’s elderly patients who must surely be filled with fear. I mentioned this to a woman who sat next to me. She was another of Jan’s patients, Aggie, about my age.
I said to Aggie, “We’ll need a ‘Jan’s Gone Support Group’. ”
She said, “We’ll call ourselves ‘Women Without Doctors’!”
I laughed and added, “We’ll be doctoring ourselves! We’ll share everything that Jan taught us!”
Jan overheard us and declared us Chair and Vice-Chair.
Dear Jan MacPhail! Off you go, beloved Doctor! I’ve cherished every minute with you. Yes, it’s time for Tony and you to begin plans for a shared retirement as you support your son through his University years. Thank you for giving us nearly 30 years of your profession, life, marriage, wisdom and love. We have been spoiled. Guess it’s time for us to join the voices that decry the questionable standards that have kept the perfect doctor from coming here to take over your practice.
I cried yesterday as I faced attendance at your farewell party. I cried through your speech. This morning, tears came through meditation. I asked for clarity so I could feel the gratitude I hold in my intellect for having your unmatchable friendship and support over these decades.
A peace settled in as I sensed this understanding, “You are being shaken out of security. It’s as though you are losing NOT your mother, but the security a mother offers. You may be homesick for some time. It’s time now to be a big soul.”
Aggie?! Let’s get that group goin’! I’ll wrestle you for the Chair!