He died Sunday, October 10, 1999 in Edmonton. His family had sold his house and he had moved into the Waterford, an assisted living complex. He stayed there barely a week and then had to return to the Grey Nuns Hospital and intensive care.
His short-term memory was burned out, but I could get him back on track by talking about the good old days.
I met Doug Paul when I was four; he was the closest I had to an uncle.
During his last decade, once a day, he drove his blue Subaru station wagon six blocks to visit mother.
He would sit in her overstuffed chair on the south side of Edmonton and knock religion. He almost drove her crazy. He delighted in teasing mother (a faithful member of the Latter-day Saints) about “Joe Smith, the rascal who contrived the Mormons.”
Doug claimed to believe in life after death. He vowed repeatedly to return as a mallard duck. Doug had been an avid hunter as a younger man.
A few years ago, he quit hunting because he was afraid he would shoot himself or his dog, Ben, instead of fast-flying game. He knew more about the English language than any professor I ever met and his vocabulary was marvelous. He always called a female dog a bitch.
Doug and mother were like an old married couple without sex. He smoked and drank fine Scotch that he brought with him in empty pill bottles. From time to time he was quite unreasonable.
Mother put up with him, she said, because she felt sorry for him, but the truth was that he was company and broke up the long day. Plus, they both loved their dogs. And they were linked by a past that went back half a century and involved memories that no one but they could fully understand or appreciate.
After Mother died, I had her hearing aids refitted for Doug. (Ben had eaten his.) Mother’s hearing aids were state-of-the-art and Doug got quite a kick out of being able to recycle them. Like Mother’s, Doug’s body was worn out.
It was a good thing Doug died when he did, because the next plateau would have been horrible. Both his legs had impossible circulation and, since he had diabetes, the doctors probably would have had to amputate them. He was in a lot of pain.
Heather, his daughter, was always there for him. When Heather was four and I was five, our parents went to the Palliser Hotel in Calgary and she and I waltzed around the ballroom. Everyone stopped and stared at us. We did not date after that, I suspect, because I always looked upon her as the sister I never had. So much for childhood romances orchestrated by parents.
Doug bought a plot in the Didsbury Cemetery. He was cremated and his three kids and many grandchildren took his ashes there on Saturday and put them with his wife’s.
Doug had made a special trip a few years ago to Didsbury to arrange for a headstone for him and his wife, Cele. He was at ease with life and death for he was a World War II army surgeon and after peace came, the young doctor built a thriving medical practice in Didsbury in the mid-40s.
He told me that he had delivered 2,000 babies and never lost a mother. All the children who lived were healthy. I asked him how that could be, and he said he made sure that the gravely sick ones did not make it. “I just set them aside and I told the girlies [nurses] not to touch them and I let nature take its course.”
He believed a healthy newborn should be nursed immediately. “Get the kid on the teat as soon as possible and keep him on it,” he told mother after mother after mother. Many of Doug’s contemporaries disagreed with him. Turns out he was right and they were wrong.
A few months after my mother died, Doug came over, and while he was drinking his ever-present Scotch and smoking one of his six dozen cigarettes for the day, he said that he had performed a hysterectomy on Mother 40 years ago.
I said I remembered and asked him why. He said she had ovarian cancer. I said I never knew that. Did Mother?
“No,” he said. “There would have been no point in alarming her.”
“Did you tell Dad?” I asked.
“No reason to worry him either.”
They don’t make doctors like Doug Paul any more. He was from an era of medicine that we will never see again because the lawyers are keeping an eye on things for us.
Doug would have been the first to admit that he was a dinosaur when it came to modern-day medicine.
By the way, Doug Paul, 83, was the man who put together Alberta Health Care. Now it’s called Capital Care.
One of the last things he told me was that his legacy to the citizens of Alberta had turned into a bad joke and then he roundly cursed Premier Ralph Klein for cutting back and destroying the finest healthcare system in the world.
Au revoir, old dinosaur.
A deeper look at Dr. Paul’s life: http://jaronsummers.com/dr-paul/
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