Happy Father’s Day to my late grandfather, Norman Hollenbeck, M.D., and my father, Stanley Hollenbeck, M.D. You both were the inspiration that led me to my chosen career of medicine. How proud I felt when I graduated from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the same medical school that both of you attended.
Grandpa, although I never met you, I grew up hearing stories about you. The wife you left behind, my wonderful grandma, Lillian Hollenbeck, told me all about you. It’s amazing to think of the days of doctors making house calls, and you did it in a horse and buggy. What was it like practicing medicine without CAT scans, antibiotics, comprehensive blood tests, intensive care units, paramedics and all the things we take for granted today? You made life-and-death decisions without the use of medical specialists, computers or X-rays and blood tests.
When people had no ability to pay you for your services, you accepted chickens and vegetables. Some of your patients couldn’t even afford that. You delivered babies and continued treating them as they grew older. You were the only doctor most of your patients ever knew.
My favorite story about you was when you delivered a baby at someone’s home, which was the custom then. Apparently, after the baby was born, the mother hemorrhaged and lost a lot of blood. She was in danger of dying and there was no time to get to the hospital (there weren’t emergency rooms then anyhow). So you called one of your medical colleagues, and right there in the patient’s bed, you two doctors hooked up an IV line from your arm, directly into her bloodstream.
You gave your very own blood to save her life. She lived, but you became very anemic and had to recuperate for two months. That’s a story almost too hard to believe, except that grandma gave me a copy of the article from the local newspaper, which I still proudly possess.
You died way too young, but you left an incredible legacy for my father and me to follow.
Dad, I grew up and remember hearing so often from people how you were one of the greatest high school football players to come out of the city of Milwaukee. Octogenarians today in Milwaukee still remember your football fame. How sad that during your last high school football game you sustained a severe knee injury that prevented you from pursuing the professional career that everyone expected of you.
So you chose the medical career of your father. Shortly after you set up your family practice and joined the Wisconsin National Guard, the United States entered World War II and you were called up to active service.
You were part of the 32nd Red Arrow Division of the U.S. Army. After a quick basic training, you and your comrades were sent to Buna, New Guinea, in the South Pacific. There you were the commander of the 14th Portable Surgical Hospital, which was the forerunner of the MASH units which became so well-known in the Korean War.
You kept a diary, which I now possess, that describes your daily life on the front lines. You and your crew operated in a hot steamy lantern-lit canvas tent, trying to patch together the wounds of the brave young soldiers who were engaged with an enemy literally within several hundred yards of your hospital tent.
You were a true hero and I have in its original frame the Silver Star you won for gallantry in action.
You came back from the war (thank God) and you continued your successful general practice.
I was so proud of being with you, because everywhere we went you were constantly recognized by your patients and greeted with a hearty “Hi Doc, how ya doin?”
I loved going on house calls with you and making Sunday morning hospital rounds.
I remember that almost anytime you took me somewhere, whether it was to a Milwaukee Braves baseball game or a Green Bay Packers football game, you would be paged to go to the hospital. You received phone calls from patients 24/7, and you took only two weeks of vacation a year. But I knew from early on that after watching and helping you treat patients in your office (downstairs from our home) that I wanted to be just like you.
So, Grandpa and Dad, Happy Father’s Day — and thanks for the inspiration for the wonderful career I have chosen.
Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Santa Cruz Medical Foundation in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 34 years’ experience, he invites health-related questions at email@example.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace professional advice. For any medical concern, consult a qualified practitioner.