Saying goodbye to obstetrics, but with a lot left to do

I helped with the birth of my last baby here in Durango in November. He is a healthy boy who weighed just under seven pounds.

More than 35 years ago, we chose Durango as the best place to raise our two sons. They are now both married and left town long ago. My wife, Gail, and I still enjoy living in La Plata County – it is our home.

Durango was not the most lucrative place to practice back then, and it still isn’t. My starting salary was just $2,000 a month, and often I worked 80 hours or more a week. The work is strenuous, but helping women and families achieve their reproductive goals has been very satisfying.

At age 68, most people are already looking forward to full retirement. I still have goals to achieve and am happy to be healthy enough to continue working. But I do enjoy sleeping a lot!

Perhaps I should hold my former neighbor, Dick Edwards, responsible for some of my reluctance to retire. Shortly after moving in to our first home on Rio Vista Circle, I met Dick on the sidewalk. He said that retirement is dangerous – that a lot of people get sick or die shortly after they quit working. Of course, there may be an error in this thinking, in that some people retire because of bad health.

About 15 years ago, I decided to work less and to be more active in the community and with global issues and was able to do so. Although my income decreased, our sons had finished college and expenditures also had decreased. Working less allowed me to be active in volunteer organizations. Now I am involved in one local – Durango Nature Studies; one national – a committee of Planned Parenthood; and one international – Quaker Earthcare Witness.

I will continue practicing office gynecology. One of my goals is to take part in a Food and Drug Administration study of Quinacrine Sterilization. This is a means of permanent female sterilization that can be done without anesthesia. It is so simple that midwives have performed thousands of these procedures. QS uses a drug, quinacrine, that was developed in the 1930s as a replacement for quinine to prevent or treat malaria. It was prescribed to millions of GIs during World War II. The FDA has approved quinacrine for several uses but not yet for sterilization. I hope to participate in a study of QS that will start in 2012. Quinacrine Sterilization holds the promise of providing inexpensive, safe control of fertility for the millions of the world’s women who want to prevent pregnancy permanently.

Through the years, I have been amazed by this community’s support. For instance, the Ballantines have published this column for over 16 years. They allow me to own the articles’ copyrights so some of the articles have been reprinted, and I distribute them to 75 people in several countries by email. I plan to continue writing Population Matters!, which may be the only regularly published newspaper column in the world that focuses on human population issues.

Providing safe, legal and caring abortion services has been controversial but one of my priorities. I know many people oppose abortion; I honor their feelings. But I also appreciate that there are many, many who support access to abortion. Twice in the last week, strangers have come up to me to thank me for being a doctor who performs abortions.

It has been just 35 years since I started working here – more than a third of a century. The time has come for new people to take the reins. I would like to introduce Dr. Brie Todd, who has just joined Four Corners OB-GYN. She is a perfect fit with the rest of the staff of the organization – compassionate, up-to-date and technically excellent. I will continue working a few days a month in the office. For pregnant women or those who need frequent visits, I am happy to turn their care over to Dr. Todd and the other physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistant at Four Corners.

On this Christmas Day, I would like to recall a very important birth that is celebrated by 2 billion people worldwide. Two thousand years ago, childbirth was dangerous, especially in a stable. In many parts of the world, it still is perilous. We can be thankful that we live here and now, and that the little boy who was born on this day, and his mother, both did well.

Richard Grossman practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Durango. Reach him at richard@population-matters.org. © Richard Grossman MD, 2011