A beloved pediatrician – and friend — retires

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Dr. Berman’s office seemed to me frozen in time -- there were piles of papers and the same rotary phones surrounding him at the desk.Dr. Berman’s office seemed to me frozen in time -- there were piles of papers and the same rotary phones surrounding him at the desk.

We always think of postal workers when we read the quote “Neither rain, nor hail, nor sleet, nor snow, nor heat of day, nor dark of night shall keep this carrier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.”
Well I can tell you whenever I hear that expression I think of David Berman, my children’s pediatrician, who I just found out is retiring after 50 years of “being there” in Bayside.
I drive past his medical practice on 211th Street every day on my way to my office and when I saw a “for sale” sign in front, I feared the worst. Had he died? He was such a mainstay in my life that I thought he’d go on forever as the lone ranger, the last of the single practitioners. I went over to the Pilling Real Estate office on Bell Boulevard to do some detective work. I found out that David was alive, but had decided to retire and was selling his house and closing his practice. I gave the broker my card and explained he had been my pediatrician for all my four children and I would like to see him and do a story for my newspapers. Sure enough, a few days later I heard a voice from the past saying, “Hello, this is Dr. Berman,” and we made a date to meet a few days later.
When I approached his office I had multiple flashbacks. First, was my memories of reaching out to him after the pediatricians I had used when my daughter Lara was born had shown me only pity when she was diagnosed with brain damage after turning blue in the nursery a few hours after she was born. I had somehow found a way to cope with finding help for Lara, but others’ pity always made me feel the saddest. Coping with a child with special needs in 1968 was challenging enough. My original pediatricians were used to dealing with acute care for children, not chronically ill ones, and after they called me a hysterical mother I knew they weren’t for me. I had heard about Dr. Berman, who was a single practitioner and originally rejected using him because of that, thinking it would be a problem. I didn’t know then that he was rarely ever away, and when he was, he had replacements with impeccable credentials.
Somehow he always had patience, never rushing me through my appointments, taking time to talk to me and examine each one of my children with a gentle, warm, caring manner that always put me and the kids at ease. Most importantly, he is a brilliant man himself with great diagnostic skills. I always felt safe with him and he never called me a hysteric!
I also remembered how on a wintry night my daughter Elizabeth had a high fever and I was terrified and had no car to get to Dr. Berman’s office. In his calm, quiet, slow speaking voice he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll come over,” and sure enough he trekked through the snow, arriving at my door to my great relief.
As I entered his office last week through multiple buzzing doors, it looked like it was frozen in time — there were the same leather chairs I’d sat on with the kids and the small table still filled with toys and a pile of books waiting to be collected. There were piles of papers and the same rotary phones surrounding him at the desk he is painfully working on going through after 50 years in practice. His computer, he admitted, was “in his head.”
He sadly told me, “It’s harder getting rid of all my files and clearing out the house than it was practicing medicine.” There he was, going through his work papers and sharing with me his decision to close the practice. “My wife wants time with me and at 81 there are places I want to visit and my grandchildren to enjoy.” His two highly accomplished sons, one a psychiatrist and the other an architect and grandchildren seem a big part of his life now but I can only imagine that his 24/7 style of practicing medicine had not changed.
So I wish him joyous days ahead and may the pain of clearing out a lifetime of memories not be too terrible. He left his mark on all those who knew him and he will forever be in my heart and mind with gratitude and admiration.