2006-03-17 00:53:31 UTC
The Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada)
March 16, 2006 Thursday
Byline: Toby Yull
Thanks, Dr. Max, for caring
I feel perverse even as I'm doing it, but every morning as I
sort through my Spectator, I am compelled to scan the obits.
I got interested in the Birth Announcements when we had our
first baby, 19-plus years ago, and somehow made a segue into
the Deaths and In Memoriams.
Soon I was an Announcement junkie, reading them out to the
family at breakfast, wondering over unexplained youthful
deaths, admiring the gorgeous faces in the photos and crying
over some of the In Memoriams.
Lately, I guess I've been too rushed some days to make my
usual stop on the Announcements page because last week I was
saddened to learn that Max Nathan, our beloved pediatrician,
Somehow I had missed the news and, therefore, the
opportunity to participate in the tributes I am confident
were heaped upon him -- though I could see that death was
stalking him the last time we'd met by chance in the Dundas
Our family's relationship with "Dr. Max" began on the second
day of our eldest daughter's life, when he visited her at
McMaster University Medical Centre. In the ecstatic
aftermath of a difficult and exhausting birth, a girl feels
a bit ragged around the edges, especially standing barefoot
in the nursery in one of those nighties with the flaps that
open to allow breast-feeding.
And there was Dr. Max, a dapper man in a freshly ironed
shirt, eyes twinkling in his kindly face, a stethoscope
around his neck. He looked so clean, so crisp. He looked
like he came straight from wherever babies are made.
For the next 12 or so years, he cared for us all. When our
second child came along and spent her first few months
crying non-stop, I thought some days I would lose it
completely. Especially when her sister came down with a long
series of ear infections and chesty coughs.
Dragging myself in there with two kids, noses running and
diapers leaking, my previous life as an autonomous woman
with class and control seemed like a dream. I'd become a
nearly invisible mother-oid.
But Dr. Max would tend to the girls and then, without fail,
he would give me a good long look in the eyes and say, "And
how are YOU doing?"
Huh? Someone talking to me?
It was enough to put me over the edge into tears more than
once, to have his dear face, so attentive and full of good
humour, turned so completely toward mine.
There's never much time in a doctor's office, but he could
create a little space and time and invite you to step into
it. Things always looked better afterward.
I remember meeting him to chat in his office one time when
the examining rooms were all full. He was just finishing a
phone call with another patient and waved me into a chair.
He gave the obviously distressed mother on the other end of
the phone a short list of instructions -- what to look for,
what do to and not do. When he finished, I heard him say to
her, "Now, tell me what I just told you." Then he listened
to be sure she had digested the information.
His common-sense remedies are still with us. Even now, when
the girls, now grown into women, are feeling poorly, I hear
him say: "Give her the BRAT diet -- Bananas, Rice, Apple
sauce and Toast."
They remember the mechanical fish, tethered in a burbling
fishbowl, that always sat on the reception desk, and the
tiny teddy bear that was always clipped to his stethoscope.
I remember a poster of a kid with a speech bubble over her
head, saying, "Please be patient, God isn't finished with me
And I remember a man with a beautiful heart and a deep love
of people, especially children. Our family is grateful to
have had his steady hand guiding us through the panicky
early years of parenthood and beyond. And we wish him peace
and rest in heaven, where he is surely sitting now.
Thank you, Dr. Max. We will always love you.
Write to Toby c/o The Spectator, 44 Frid St., Hamilton, ON,
L8N 3G3; or e-mail her at ***@cogeco.ca.
Toby Yull's column usually appears on Fridays