An apple a day

A generation ago, Reno columnist Rollan Melton published an affectionate look at Dr. Louis E. Lombardi, Northern Nevada physician and higher education regent.

Two of the late Dr. Lombardi’s quotes in the 1988 column (lifted from Melton’s book “101 Columns”) captured my attention as the current health care policy debate nears a crescendo in Washington, D.C.

“Our family doctor would come to our house; he would give us all-day suckers; he carried that little bag and he always wanted to help us; I decided at age seven that I wanted to become what he was,” said Dr. Lombardi.

“I never got materially rich, nor tried. I hate to collect my patients’ money,” he said. “I hope to be remembered as a doctor who loved his work. I want my patients to have a good opinion of me. Seeing my patients get well has given me the greatest thrill of my life. The reward of watching as health is restored is more than I can describe.”

Dr. Lombardi was a University of Nevada, Reno athletic physician as well as a longtime elected Nevada regent. Melton praised him as a booster of education, a veteran, a good listener and a fine general practice physician/surgeon. The physician and columnist are dead, the eventual fate of all, but I yearn for the era in which they lived.

I don’t know how the good doctor, who died in 1990, would have come down on the current congressional wrangle over health care. I suspect from his quotes, however, that he would have been aghast at the emphasis on money.

Columnist Melton found folks like Dr. Lombardi were authentic and called them real rather than artificial purveyors of sound bite quotes. He said knowing them was a side benefit of columnizing.

Another side benefit of writing a column, I find, is the freedom to dip into history and use words from the doctor or others in the past to make telling points regarding current events.

Anonymous, speaking under the guise of a Welsh proverb, offers up this: “Heaven defend me from a busy doctor.” Methinks Dr. Lombardi’s attitude shows he would have concurred.

Then there is colonial and early American sage Ben Franklin, who said, “God heals, the doctor takes the fee.” French thinker Voltaire sounded a similar theme: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

Doctors, insurance firms, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmaceutical firms, etc. often seem to be in it for the money these days. Even when they don’t amuse the patient while nature heals, they divert the patient’s attention as they pick his/her pocket.

Many of us hand these health “care” ghouls the tools to do so via our lifestyles and fears. Epictetus, a Greek who was a philosopher after being freed from servitude as a Roman slave, had a cure for this problem in the first century A.D. Find joy in it or weep:

“Reflect that the chief source of all evils to Man, and of baseness and cowardice, is not death, but the fear of death. Against this fear then, I pray you, harden yourself; to this let all your reasonings, your exercises, your reading tend. Then shall you know that thus alone are men set free,” he said.

He also offered this: “It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain and death.” Risk assessment founded in reality, for my money.

Thanks be to providence/posterity for the earnest musings and counsel of Dr. Louis Ernest Lombardi, Welsh folklore, Ben Franklin, Voltaire and Epictetus.