Friday, February 4, 2011

"Dr. Denmark Said It"

On February 2, 2011, Dr. Leila Denmark celebrated her 113th birthday at her daughter's home in Athens, Georgia.  Dr. Denmark was our family's pediatrician for three generations.

She was the only woman in her medical school graduating class in 1928, she was the oldest practicing pediatrician at age 103, and somewhere in-between, she co-created the whooping cough vaccine.  She also wrote many successful parenting books.  Today, she is the 11th oldest known living person in the world.

So how does somebody live to be 113 years old anyway?  Dr. Denmark would tell you that it's her healthy lifestyle.  With both of her parents dying in their forties, it's hard to credit genetics.

Dr. Denmark is possibly one of the most disciplined people in the world.  I remember her telling me that she never tried a Coke because she probably would have liked it.  And she never ate sugar because our bodies didn't need it.  And she always slept the recommended amount to keep her mind and body strong.

Her advice to parents was just as disciplined.  "You give your children McDonald's because you are too lazy to cook dinner."  And parents still loved her for it.  Her no bull approach to medicine was revered.

She didn't utilize many of the tests and prescriptions that doctors do today; she didn't need to.  She could close her eyes, feel your stomach and accurately diagnose an intestinal problem.  She tested your hemoglobin using the end of a sterile razor blade and checked your blood pressure without the new fancy-smancy cups.  She would do "wormy" if you had a sinus infection (wormy = rubbing your sinuses with a medicine covered q-tip.  And let me tell you, it wasn't awesome but cured a sinus infection before you could leave the parking lot.).

She also listened to mothers, which unfortunately many doctors don't do. She believes that God gives mothers the ability to figure out what is wrong with their children.  She also empowered mothers, encouraged them and taught them by example. At times, she was as much psychologist as physician.

Appointments were never necessary at Dr. Denmark's office.  She would just poke her head out of the examination room and say, "Now who's my next little little angel?"

I remember Dr. Denmark telling me that she wanted to be a doctor, but Emory University would not allow any women into their program.  At first, the Medical College of Georgia also refused her, but eventually caved to her persuasion.  They did not provide her with any learning materials, including a desk.  So she brought her own desk and chair, which she carried herself from class to class.  She was required to sit separate from the male students and at times was refused lab or practical training.

I was inspired by her passion, her calling and her determination.  Maybe some of her stories helped mold me into the woman that I am today.

My sister Jennifer had to have allergy shots when she was a toddler.  My Mom wrote a song that we'd all sing on the way to the doctor's office:

Thank you, Dr. Denmark.  Thank you for my shot.
Thank you, Dr. Denmark.  Thank you for my shot.
Now my nose can breathe better.  I feel better, too.
Thank you, Dr. Denmark.  You know what to do. 

And did she ever.

"Anything on earth you want to do is play.  Anything on earth you have to do is work.  Play will never kill you; work will.  I never worked a day in my life." - Dr. Leila Denmark