I have found that with teachers and doctors it is the best and the worst who made the greatest impression.
Mrs. Van Winkle, who taught the third grade. She would play records of bird calls in the lunch room. I adored her.
And then Mrs. Moyer, in the fifth grade. She had been a model, was beautiful, and we all–boys and girls–had a crush on her. That is until the day I got caught chewing gum. Mrs. Moyer kept an empty coffee can at the front of the class room, and it was filled with already chewed gum. Her punishment was that you were to place your own gum in the can and to pull out a used piece to place in your mouth as punishment. I was a germ freak and absolutely horrified and my face showed it. I think she was afraid I might vomit so she gave me a bye. But my crush was over.
And then there was the physician at the Mayo Clinic whose name now escapes me. I’d been suffering from ongoing GI issues of unknown etiology. When he entered the room he asked how tall I was. When I said 5′ 10″ he said ‘You sit small.’ As he examined me, he posed another question. ‘If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?’ My immediate response was surfing. Which I quickly countered with ‘No, I’m certain I would be too afraid.’ This doctor looked me square in the eyes and he said, do you know what your problem is? You’ve lost your balls.’ He was right and I’ll never forget it.
By the time I met Dr. Frederick Rimmile I was forty. Two years prior I had delivered my third child. Always athletic, I suddenly found myself feeling poorly. Shortness of breath, upper body weakness, eventually a cough. In 2001 he ordered a chest x-ray. Years later, when I asked his practice for copies of my medical records, I saw that he had written this: ‘On the off chance that this young, nonsmoking woman has a lung neoplasm.’ Unfortunately he did not share those concerns with me.
Nineteen years ago Dr. Rimmile was on his way to a conference in California, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center.
Frederick Rimmile was a really good doctor. Only thirty two, he had enthusiasm as well as the ability to think outside of the box. I felt he took my concerns seriously. Honestly, had he not died, I am certain my lung cancer would have been diagnosed at a much earlier stage.
But he did die on that terrible day and I inherited a different doctor in his practice. Older, more complacent. She attributed my complaints to adult onset asthma. It would take another three and a half years and a recalcitrant pneumonia to set the record straight. Lung cancer.
I think of Fred often, but particularly on the anniversary of nine eleven. And I imagine a different outcome. For him, all the others who perished, and–frankly– for myself.