The Patient Doctor
by Eric Bergeson, March 24, 2010
My eye doctor for over 20 years, Dr. Clayton Anderson of Ada, passed away this winter at age 80.
Norman Rockwell missed out when he didn’t paint a picture of Doc Anderson, the very model of old-time small town professional solidity, giving me the first eye exam in his office.
There I waited, a frightened elementary student, gangly legs dangling down from that crazy exam chair, wondering if somebody was going to stick a needle in my eye.
I had become so scared during a visit to a previous eye doctor that I lost my dinner. I refused to go back, so my parents convinced me to try Dr. Anderson.
After a long delay, Doc walked through the door. Slowly. He was, in my memory, at least seven feet tall. He carried himself like George Washington.
Doc sat down. Slowly. He crossed his long legs, looked me in the eye and said, “How are you young man?”
After I said fine, he started the exam. Slowly. His calm inspired my trust.
“Is this one clearer… or… is this one?” he said, over and over, with careful enunciation, as if it were the most profound question facing humankind.
I see things in shades of gray, so the decision whether this one was clearer or this one never was simple. I debated. He flipped the lenses again: “This one...or this one?”
Doc was utterly patient until I finally made up my mind.
Over the next twenty years, we repeated the ritual at least a dozen times. I had my growth spurt. I went to college. I started to work. But every couple of years, I found myself in Doc Anderson’s office deciding whether this one was clearer… or this one.
The exam room never changed. Doc Anderson never aged.
The routine was always the same: You waited for Doc to finish with his last patient in the next room. Eventually, he appeared through the door. “How are you doing young man?” he would ask before he sat down and crossed his legs.
After reading through my stack of old exam cards, Doc asked what I thought of the Twins. He squinted at me seriously as I responded.
After hearing my take, Doc, a former catcher himself, paused, dug in his drawer a bit, and gave his measured response: “I think they are going to need more pitching.”
And the exam would begin.
No matter how full the waiting room, no matter how close to the end of the day, Doc Anderson moved at the same slow, measured pace.
When I entered my vain years, I wanted to switch from glasses to contacts. Doc said no. “One of those trees you sell is going to poke your eye out,” he said.
He was right. Every time the tip of a tree branch slapped against my eyeglasses, thus preserving my eye, I thought of Doc Anderson.
There aren’t many Doc Andersons left — serious, old-fashioned community-minded professionals who ply their trade in a small office on Main Street of a small town.
Doc Anderson had the calm bearing of a man who had served his country in war-time and returned having had his fill of drama, heroism and conquest.
Living out his days in the quiet of a small town suited him just fine.
Not that he grew stale. About the time most professionals retire, Doc Anderson took a few days off to take a seminar where he performed surgery on the eye of a pig.
I remember well. After our annual Twins discussion, Doc told me about the surgery in such vivid detail that I nearly lost my dinner.
I might have asked Doc to stop, but I was so honored that he thought me worthy of the discussion that I let him continue until the room started to swirl.
I was probably thirty at the time. But part of me still felt like my legs were dangling from the exam chair in a Norman Rockwell painting.
Times have changed. Rockwell’s America is gone. The world moves too fast. Main Street has emptied.
But I will always remember when I visited Doc Anderson’s office, stepped into a Rockwell painting and returned to a bygone time when stately men moved at a stately pace.
(Visit Eric's weblog at www.countryscribe.com.)