In the early 1970s, I was just starting as an “attending” faculty pediatrician at St Louis Children’s Hospital. I enjoyed teaching; I was challenged by research; but most of all, I loved taking care of patients, rich or poor, from the youngest newborn to the strapping adolescent.
One patient I remember well was an infant girl from the Italian section of St Louis, “The Hill.” She had not grown well, despite an apparently loving and caring family. She had had numerous tests to discover what the cause of her failure to thrive (“FTT” in medical parlance) was, to no avail. I examined her with care and reviewed her case with my students and residents, and was lucky enough to arrive at the diagnosis. Once treated she truly blossomed. I saw her back in clinic numerous times; always the family expressed their desire to show their gratitude to me. After all, it had almost been a disgrace to have such a skinny baby amongst this well-endowed Italian family. Of course, I always demurred.
One snowy day my ancient vehicle barely transported me in to the hospital. While going up in the elevator, I complained about my car’s failing performance to a colleague. A tap on the shoulder revealed the infant’s father, face aglow and triumphant. He had just the solution for my car trouble. “Leave your keys in the car, doc, and my friends and I will take good care of it – and you. You’ll get the insurance money, and a nice, new car.” This was a gift of gratitude, which I, of course, had again to refuse. But not without expressions of my gratitude for an offer that I could, and did, live without.