Dr. Andreas Edrich – Natural-born M.D. by Martin Higgins
Few of my childhood memories are more vivid than having a high fever, standing inches from the aluminum and glass storm door of my family’s brick Cape Tudor during a blizzard, and feeling my body heat being drawn from my face toward the icy glass. Outside, a sleek, silver spacecraft with a black, canvas roof slid around the street corner in curb-deep snow and stopped at our driveway.
My brothers and sister were scattered around the house and we were all in our pajamas, coughing, sneezing, and complaining as loud as sore throats would allow, “We want to go outside and have fun for a change!” They bickered and hounded each other, beset with cabin-fever, but I stood at the front door in my fevered stupor, watching a man climb out of his low-slung vehicle and trudge up our driveway. He wore a tan trench coat and a black beret pulled down over his ears, and carried a flat-bottomed, brown leather satchel bag.
My mother pulled me back from the door as she pushed it open. “Doctor Manasse, please come in.”
Manasse entered with a snowy blast of wind and, as he took off his hat and gloves, smiled at each of us as he spoke our names. He looked different than other men I knew. Yes, the cut of the trench coat and his beret were foreign in our post-war, lower middle class town. His large, aquiline nose sat prominently below blue-gray eyes that conveyed a life of wisdom and compassion. As I think of him now, I see his profile as if struck on coin; the line of his face powerful, but infinitely caring. He was the very image of a man of worth; for indeed he was.
Dr. Konrad Manasse was our family doctor and he made house calls.
The doctor was also a surgeon, who had graduated from Freidrich Wilhelm University in Bonn, Germany shortly before the Great Crash of 29. His bedside manner was impeccable, knowing that illness, especially to parents, was a burden of patience and fear. On matters of diagnosis and treatment he was rock-solid in his self-confidence. His breadth of knowledge, in consultation and casual conversation was so vast that, as I came to know him, I never ceased to be impressed by his brilliance and spontaneous insights.
Manasse was especially renowned for closing up wounds so carefully that they barely left a scar. He once mentioned to me that, during his residency, he had paid a seamstress who specialized in fine silk garments to teach him how to join edges with tiny well-spaced stitches. Given all the sutures he sewed into the accident- and fight-prone Higgins Kids (brother Paddy stopped counting at just over 200) I can only see a couple of my many scars that have not faded entirely away.
The Doctor died in `69, while I was in Vietnam. My parents and most of our neighbors attended the funeral to honor him. Each of them had a life-changing memory of him to share. Half a world away, I decided that I too would own a silver spaceship one day. When I returned to the States I bought one: a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster.
And, to honor Dr. Manasse, a black beret.
For the next thirty years life’s wear and tear on my body took its toll and I soon learned that rambling around the United States means not having a regular physician. I met all manner of general practitioners: some very competent and engaging; others who were merely dedicated golfers, social climbers, alcoholics or worse who “did medicine” as a means of supporting their escapism. Over the years, healthcare become commoditized and parceled out in “finished unit” procedures at a rate that would have pleased Henry Ford. I was merely a case number in the system until 2005.
After yet another night of sciatic pain, I got out of bed and collapsed on the floor, unable to stand, crawl or do anything other than howl in pain. My helicopter accidents, racing car wrecks, and long-distance running obsession had all taken their toll on my lower spine. Now that cartilage had collapsed and my vertebra pinched off my nerves, I needed reconstructive surgery immediately. The Lone Tree, Colorado EMT evac’ed me to the hospital and, within a few days my spine was reinforced with a titanium fixation support and, to shunt the paralyzing pain, I was narcotized into a delirium. I’ve always had an adverse reaction to Morphine, so my attending physician opted to prescribe a Fentanyl transdermal patch to simply eliminate my complaints and consciousness. Fentanyl is estimated to be 100 times more potent than Morphine and, in a Post-Op slip-up, a nurse doubled the dosage.
So, the curtains in my ward room turned into field hospital tent flaps; though the room’s widow that looked out on rolling prairie I saw palm trees and barbed-wire base camps and military vehicles convoying along a highway. The innocent murmuring of patients in the hallway sounded like furtive Vietnamese conferences, plotting my demise. I was convinced I was a captive in a North Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp, the subject of a mind-control drug experiment. I was on a journey away from reality and no one knew if I had a round trip ticket.
Later, I was told that my attending physician seemed disinterested in my torments and, upon meeting my nearly hysterical teen-aged daughter, heartlessly said, “Your father may never be any better than this, so get used to it.” I’m sure he was pre-occupied with his golf swing or stock portfolio or receptionist’s ass, but what he did was inexcusable, unprofessional, and, indeed, scurrilous. So my wife fired him in front of the staff and began a search for a responsible doctor to take over. She later told me that she was “Searching for the The Pros from Dover” and that phrase (lifted from the film M.A.S.H.) took on new meaning for me.
After contacting dozens of physicians and getting outright refusals or being told that “the first available appointment was weeks away,” she got a call from a highly-recommended practice. “Yes, Doctor Edrich is willing to take on the case. He can see Martin in the hospital today.” This willingness to step into a troubled situation, amid a blizzard of excuses and pre-conditions from other practices, the resolve to deal with the terminated attending physician (and demonstrated asshole) set Dr. Andreas Edrich apart. He was both a doctor and a Hospitalist – a new responsibility that encompasses transition coordinator and case manager – now an essential care team member given the exponential growth of medical knowledge and increasing number of medical specialists.
Today, more and more doctors move toward paperless offices, where information is gathered, stored and retrieved electronically. Dr. Edrich was on the leading edge of that revolution over 10 years ago, but he has taken frontline/backend IT capabilities beyond mere office management. The Doc is wired. He’s on the bucking backbone of the World Wide Web with priority access to up-to-the-minute information, current views about treatment, instant associate consultations, statistics and evolving therapies and it all fits in his hand. His PDA isn’t a fashion gadget, it’s his direct link to every bit of available data and advice from around the globe, stack-ranked and sorted, relevance-ordered to help him put what he knows to work. And it works. God, how it works.
But I didn’t know all that when we first met.
I was tethered to the bedrails in a room with inward sloping walls, and somewhere, the sound of babies crying reminded me of the Mau Than Orphanage where I was a Army liaison NCO. A black man in olive drab camouflage fatigues was taking blood out of my finger. I asked, “What unit is this?” He said nothing and checked the hanging bags of whatever it was they were injecting into me. I had seen Jeeps and three-quarter ton trucks out on the distant highway and a turbine helicopter ferried in wounded around the clock. I knew I was in The Nam and I had to escape.I had no idea what I would find outside my room, but I HAD TO GO!
Dr. Edrich walked into the room from behind a tent flap and stood at the foot of my bed.
“Martin. Do you know where you are?”
I knew this had to be a trick question. Did I tell him what I knew to be truth? That I was in North Vietnam and the subject of an out-of-control experiment? Could I trust him? I searched my brain for an answer. “Cloud Hill?” I said, and he looked disappointed. I looked away and he disappeared. Days later I plotted my escape, freed one hand and tore the IV’s out of my arm. An alarm sounded and nurses rushed in, and found me standing but still bound to the bed. They closed in and reality slipped away again.
I finally came out of my delirium as the Fentanyl wore off. Dr. Edrich had stopped all pain medications until I was fully conscious and coherent. “He might scream, but he’ll be here, screaming.” He asked again if I knew where I was and I took forever to say, “Sky Ridge Hospital.” Right! Sky Ridge. Only a doped up fool would say “Cloud Hill Hospital.” I was back – with one toe tentatively resting on my reality ground.
Dr. Edrich’s manner was relaxed and open; a strong, balanced blend of compassion and authority. His comprehensive view of my situation condition included an acute awareness that Laura was patiently managing her fear that I might not ever return from my nightmare delusions. The previous attending physician was practicing his chip shots after a lunch of Gin Rickey’s and sliders.
Each time Dr. Edrich entered my room he was upbeat and attentive. He brought fresh information about my condition that confirmed or modified his previous opinions, offered clear explanations, and administered reasoned encouragement. I came to feel that I was his most important patient and, in a moment of idle conversation with a kind-hearted nurse, I said those very words. She replied, “I hear that from a lot of his patients… and, truth be told, all the nurses think he’s a perfect combination physician and friend; compassionate enough to care about you as a person and professional enough to provide world-class healthcare.”
When she said “world-class” I thought of Dr. Manasse and his casual mastery, his wealth of knowledge, his sensitivity to our fears and impatience. And Doctor Edrich, half a century later, has that same grounding, that same essence of The Healer. To advise, one must first listen. This simple logic evades most physicians, but MY doctor understands its importance.
Tell me, does YOUR doctor take notes on your comments, observations and reports? If not, why not?
Over the past six years I’ve learned a lot about Andreas: his passion to walk alongside his patients, listening carefully, following when detailed observation is crucial, leading when he sees the best way to proceed. And, as an experienced, expert pilot, he fully understands the life-saving value of deep research, accurate interpretation, thoughtful preparation, and attentive follow-through. My wife, daughters and their boyfriends consider him our Family Doctor, a title we do not use without respect. After all, we understand that only a person of worth should ever be referred to with such reverence.
But there’s an element of magic in the man, too.
“I was around five years old when I saw `Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ on TV and it changed my life.” he said, “Rudolph’s best friend was Hermey the Elf, who had one desire in life – to be a Dentist. When I heard that I knew, there and then, I wanted that too. Being only five, dentist and doctor meant the same thing to me. That desire is so deeply embedded in who I am that, even at three in the morning, tired and making my rounds, checking in on my patients at the hospital, I walk the halls with a smile, grateful to be a doctor. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to pursue the profession I love.”
That confession made me realize what it was that I found so admirable both Konrad and Andreas; a comprehensive view of the world, a certainty about how they contribute to its well-being; and a willingness to embrace the discipline, sacrifices, and rewards of practicing medicine.
It’s been said that, “If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” But I found more than that in what Andreas has shared with me. The greatest reward in life is not doing what you love, but what you become by doing it.
And, the evidence of that worth and wisdom, is Dr. Edrich’s simple, yet inspired philosophy, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body. But rather, a slide in sideways – with a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and piece of chocolate in the other – your body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, as you scream `Woo-HOO! WHAT A RIDE!'”
And now, sitting here at my keyboard, I can’t tell if that last exclamation is Dr. Manasse snow-drifting his Porsche toward the snowed-in Higgins house or Dr. Edrich and Hermey hanging onto Santa’s sleigh as it climbs toward the sky.