About 20 years ago, I had to take my 4-year-old daughter to a dermatologist. Something minor. Spots of some kind.
It was before managed care, so I don't know exactly how I chose the doctor. Maybe I found him in the phone book. Or, more likely, I called around until I found somebody who told me he was the best. However it happened, I was lucky to find myself in the waiting room of Alfred L. Weiner, physician and thoroughly decent and brave person.
During the get-to-know-you chitchat, Dr. Weiner discovered that I was a member of the press and a working mother.
We discovered that we knew some of the same people, including his son, Stewart, a magazine editor on the west coast. I remember thinking that Stewart really ought to nudge his father to stock the reception area with something better than 10-year-old copies of Ducks Unlimited and Time magazines from the Eisenhower administration. But that was my only complaint.
After only a brief wait, Dr. Weiner examined Meg. We were surprised - at least I was - to see a small cluster of ugly bruises on one of my daughter's buttocks.
"How did this happen, honey?" he asked her gently. She said she didn't know, and I didn't either. I shrugged guiltily. Embarrassed that I hadn't noticed. Embarrassed that they were there.
He gave us some ointment for the spots, said he needed to do a few tests and that we should come back the following week.
During that week, Dr. Weiner was on the telephone to Meg's pediatrician. He feared that those ugly little bruises might be the sign of a bigger problem. And despite the fact that I was a friend of his son and a member of the press and potentially noisy and litigious, he stuck his neck out.
Meanwhile, Meg and I had traced the bruises to the seat of her new bike. Every time she hopped off, she bumped one side of her rear with the point of the triangular seat. Her dad lowered the seat a couple of inches. Problem solved.
Back at Dr. Weiner's office, he told me that he had "a little confession" to make. He said he'd talked to Meg's regular doctor to make sure there were no other signs that she had been abused.
He looked me right in the eye and said he hoped I would understand why he had felt it necessary.
I looked him right in his good eyes, a little magnified by his glasses, a lot crinkled by years of smiling. And told him that I thought Meg was very lucky to have a dermatologist who looked deeper than her skin.
The art of medicine
Monday, Stewart called to tell me that his father died that morning of kidney failure. Dr. Weiner, 86, saw his last patient in mid-July. I'll bet he had a Salem cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth during the exam. And I am sure that he did not miss a thing.
Not a rash. And not a bruise. Even if it would have been safer or easier to look the other way.
Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Wise Center in Amberley, and I expect there will be praise for him as a physician and teacher. "Dr. Weiner was one of a handful of older guys that you'd want to be around to learn the art of medicine as well as the science," says Dr. J. Scott Cardone, a "younger guy" who trained at the University of Cincinnati.
Maybe there will be some patients at the service who will remember that when Dr. Weiner decided to move his office from the downtown Central Trust Tower during the 1960s, he put up a giant map of the Cincinnati area with push-pins for every patient. Then he chose a spot that was the most convenient.
Not from his house. From theirs.
Stewart and his sisters, Wendy Wasserman and Toben Weiner, say that he was a terrific father and devoted to their mother for 54 years until her death in 1994. Dr. Weiner's golfing buddies think he was a pretty good golfer, at least a determined one. His colleagues say he was an excellent physician.
His patients can tell you he was all these things. And more.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.