When Dr. Mark Weissburst retired from the practice of cardiology in 1999, I had serious concerns. Having had open-heart surgery to replace a congenitally defective aortic valve three years prior, I needed regular cardiac supervision and care.
Dr. Weissburst was not only a skilled doctor. He was a congregant and a friend. We were on a first name basis, and I knew that if I had a serious problem, he would welcome my call at home any time of the day or night.
I call that kind of care “Rabbi Perks,” and I have unashamedly availed myself of them with all my physicians.
But we were fairly new to the greater Hartford area and I did not know another cardiologist who I felt would give me the level of personal, handholding attention that Dr. Weissburst provided.
Then Dr. Joel Deutsch, of blessed memory, spoke to me to recommend Dr. Robert Chamberlain. Dr. Deutsch was renowned as a physician not only for his great knowledge and skill but for the personal care he gave each and every patient. He also did not suffer fools lightly.
So when Joel suggested I ask Dr. Chamberlain to be my new cardiologist I listened. I listened even though I did not know him personally. If I went to him, there would be no “Rabbi Perks,” and once you have gotten used to those they are hard to give up.
But when Joel, who could be very critical of people–particularly physicians–who did things in ways he did not approve, said that Dr. Chamberlain took care of him and that he was “highly satisfied,” I decided to make an appointment.
I am so glad I did.
Dr. Chamberlain was everything Joel said he would be. He was knowledgeable, personable and eager to find out as much about my history and me as he could. He immediately made me feel comfortable and never rushed our time together.
At the same time he was efficient. When I came to the office, there would be a short amount of banter about the trials and triumphs of the Red Sox, and then he dealt with what I had come in for. For the first several years he did my echocardiograms by himself instead of sending me to a technician. His instant analyses were always reassuring.
He was concerned early on that my artificial aortic heart valve was slowly developing an ascending aortic aneurysm. He watched it very carefully.
When in the spring of 2012, I went through a period of feeling very lethargic; he did a series of tests. He called me into the office and said, “I have good news and not so good news. The good news is that, “I have figured out what is making you feel such a lack of energy. You have a low heart rate. The not so good news is that you need a pacemaker.”
“When should we do that,” I asked?
“Come to the hospital after your Sabbath dinner this evening,” he answered. “They will prep you tonight, and I will take care of it tomorrow morning.”
Not long thereafter he said, “It’s time to consider repairing the aneurysm surgically. At the same time it might be prudent to replace your mechanical heart valve with a tissue valve. That way you can get off Coumadin (which I had taken daily since July 1996).
“It’s a complex operation,” he continued. “You will feel like you have been hit by a truck, but I think it will be worth it.”
Then he added, “I recommend that you go to a major medical center where they do large numbers of this type operation.”
After we did some research, Vickie and I mentioned the Cleveland Clinic, and he thought that was an excellent choice.
Then he did some research and suggested Dr. Lars Svensson, a renowned heart surgeon, who had repaired the aneurysm of the Boston Celtics Forward Jeff Green. When I learned that after a year’s recuperation, Jeff Green returned to play professional basketball, I was sold.
I figured that if Dr. Svensson was good enough for the Boston Celtics, he was good enough for me.
Dr. Chamberlain made me feel confident in heading off to Cleveland, and he was eager to see me as soon as I returned. He monitored me closely until I was stable, and soon after that, he decided to retire from practice. I have since wondered whether the Eternal One had him postpone that decision until I was well once again. In any case I am glad he did.
While we were never on a first name basis, and while I neither asked for nor received the “Rabbi Perks” I have enjoyed with other physicians, I know I could not have received better care than Dr. Chamberlain gave me.
When my new (and very wonderful) cardiologist, Dr. Ronald Bloom told me that Dr. Chamberlain was gravely ill, I reached out to him with a copy of my book and a letter telling him how much his care will always mean to me.
When I learned of his death, profound sadness and deep gratitude overwhelmed me. I imagine him in the great beyond cheering the Red Sox on and–with skill and humility–continuing to mend damaged hearts.
Yes, that is what I imagine, but one thing I can say for sure. As long as my heart beats, his memory will endure there for a blessing.