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Mopping up to doctoring up

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 5/31/2013, 12:40 p.m.
While growing up, I was well aware of my mother working very hard doing days...
Halloween will make your child scream

While growing up, I was well aware of my mother working very hard doing days work. She did a whole lot of mopping and scrubbing floors to keep our family intact. Often, when she went out to clean other folk's homes, I would lighten her home duties by mopping and scrubbing her floors. When she would arrive at home, her face would light up to know that she had been spared another cleaning job.

While preparing for the study of medicine at Brooklyn College, I worked cleaning houses. I did much scrubbing and mopping in the homes that surrounded the college. It was an honest living and I was well paid. When I finished cleaning a home, everything was sparkling clean. The families that I worked for often invited me to share their Friday evening meal. I never told the families of my interest in becoming a physician; however, they knew that I was in college. After finishing college, and a stint in the Army during the Korean War, I entered SUNY Downstate Medical College and ultimately became an intern at Kings County Hospital.

One day, while walking down the street in front of the hospital, I was approached by a smiling women who I did not recognize. She greeted me with a hug and reminded me how I had worked in her home and how appreciative she was of my doing such a great job. She asked me what I was doing at the present time. I told her that I was an intern at Kings County Hospital. Her next words were, "Do you have any weekends free?" It was obvious that she wanted me to work in her house.

I told her my weekends were now filled up taking care of patients, rather than mopping and scrubbing floors. She looked a little embarrassed and wished me well. I'm sure that she did not fully understand the transition that had taken place in my life.

Oh well, getting back to scrubbing and mopping. During my practice, I often made house calls on patients who were elderly. I recall that one day, a wonderful patient with an angelic face and grey hair called me to make a house call. She was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and could hardly walk. When I arrived at her home, she was in her kitchen mopping her floor. It was evident that the deformity in her hands would not allow her to even squeeze a mop. Before examining her, I removed my coat, rolled up my sleeves and filled her bucket with hot, sudsy water. I asked her to sit down while I mopped her floor.

It was evident from the layers of dirt that her floor had not been scrubbed for many seasons. I was finished in 10 minutes and then proceeded to examine her. She related that as a doctor, I should not have to be scrubbing anyone's floor. I told her that I had scrubbed floors way before becoming a doctor. However, the expression on her face told me she understood the transition from mopping up to doctoring up!

I recall when Dr. Martin Luther King made his great speech in Washington, how it influenced me when he said something along the lines of, "If you're a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper. Sweep it like an artist does when creating a beautiful picture."

I can still mop floors and make them look beautiful.