By Michele Thomas
I sat in the examining room Wednesday waiting for a doctor. There was a knock on the door and a young man walked in. "Hello," he said, "I'm Dr. Leavitt."
"Are you?" I wondered.
We settled in Grants Pass, Ore., in January 1981, when my twins were 3 years old. In the spring, I started a garden and decided to amend the soil with lime. The lime came in large sacks, like big bags of dog food, and one of the sacks broke open, spilling all over the ground.
One Saturday evening before dinner, the boys were playing outdoors when Collin fell and his face landed on the lime. Instinct took over as we rushed him into the shower and flushed his eyes with water. Scared to death, I searched the yellow pages for an ophthalmologist.
We did not have a family doctor yet and I didn't even know exactly where the hospitals (there were two then) were located. I trembled as I dialed the phone number I picked at random. The answering service patched me through to the doctor. "Meet me at my office right away," he said, giving me directions.
The doctor was waiting for us. He examined and treated my son's eyes. He gave me a salve with instructions and told us to come back the next day at noon.
On Sunday we met the doctor at his office again. He was satisfied that Collin's eyes would heal with no damage from what could have been a serious chemical burn. I could tell the doctor was genuinely relieved. As we prepared to leave, I asked what I owed him. "I don't know, my girl takes care of that. How about $25?"
Dr. Leavitt became our family eye doctor. When my sons approached driving age, I asked him to please double check their vision before they got behind the wheel. I personally saw the good doctor every two years without fail. He usually gave me a new prescription for my near-sightedness, then eventually, inevitably, a prescription for bi-focals.
During each visit I learned more about the doctor and his work in third world countries. He was always just getting back from or getting ready to go off to some village where he volunteered his services to people too remote, too poor or too forgotten to expect such relief. He performed cataract surgery and other procedures wherever there was a need.
In 2006, he was lamenting the plight of the Darfur refugees. He had lost contact with an associate who was working there. He was noticeably worried and upset.
It was during my 2006 exam that he told me he'd be retiring soon.
"You can't retire," I told him. "At least not until you've removed my cataracts." We laughed because he had just told me I didn't have to worry about cataracts for another 10 years.
While I waited for my new doctor Wednesday, I anticipated someone younger and less burdened by the vocation to heal the sick no matter what time of day or night, or day of the week, or whether they could pay or where in the world they live.
The doctor who entered the room and introduced himself as Dr. Leavitt was Rodney Leavitt, Dr. Russell Leavitt's son. He looked to be about the same age as my son Collin. After completing his residency in Missouri, he returned home to fill his father's shoes while his father wears out his, traveling wherever he's needed, helping the helpless with his compulsive compassion.
It's a privilege to know them both.