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Alas, my doctor is retiring

I recently got a phone call that I've long been dreading.

Actually, it was good news for the person who was calling, at least not bad news.

Dr. Melvin Yoselevsky, "Yose" to many in the New London County medical community who have come to know and respect him over many decades, was on the phone.

This, for starters, was strange. Usually, I call him, with some minor problem or another. But I knew, as soon as I heard his familiar, reassuring doctor's voice on the line, why he was calling.

Indeed, Yoselevsky explained he is retiring, partly because of COVID-19 and problems the pandemic has raised for him seeing patients in his one-doctor office. Mostly, though, he said, the time has come for him to close his practice while he can still be sure to help his patients — they number about 1,000 — transition successfully to new doctors.

Yoselevsky is 82, he told me that on the call. I would never have guessed it, even though I long feared he might be contemplating retirement.

He said he didn't want to have something happen that would make him have to abandon the practice suddenly and leave his patients medically stranded.

I know this sounds like some strange, old-fashioned version of medical care, knowing your patients and putting their interests and good health first in everything you do.

But that is the high standard he has practiced by.

If putting patients first, knowing them and their families and their health needs, sounds quaint and old fashioned, well, it is, and Yoselevsky's decades-old practice in New London has been the embodiment of it.

In fact, his office, on the first floor of a home on Montauk Avenue across from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, looks and feels as comforting and homey as a Norman Rockwell depiction of a doctor's office.

Some of his patients still remember when he lived upstairs, and a visit to the doctor's office often also meant greeting his wife or young kids in the hallway. I missed a lot of that. I've only been a patient about 30 or so years.

For office visits, he would always wear a starched white coat. He'd use two pens fixed near the blotter on his desk to take notes in your file, in my case a giant cardboard folder documenting decades of blood pressure readings, heart rates, height and weight, a chronicle of my inevitable decline.

There is another room off his office with an examining table and a big scale that I swear always recorded me five pounds heavier than other scales. I never got a lecture from the doctor, but I always left his office with a resolve to eat less and better.

While the look of the office is nostalgic, the care is not. I always found the doctor to be up-to-the-minute in knowledge of modern medical treatment. I picture stacks of medical journals on his nightstand at home, as he keeps up.

It's the young doctors I encounter in fleeting sessions in examining rooms rich in stainless steel that make me nervous.

Even many of those young doctors and their staff in the region light up at the mention of Yose, a respect earned through decades of simple, forthright professionalism, putting the patient first.

I've heard some of the lament in the community from others, like me, who recently got a Yoselevsky retirement call. I feel sorry for them, too, but I guess we should all be grateful for what we've had this long.

One reader recalled in an email how the doctor once made sure someone walked home with an elderly patient, because it was hot outside and she couldn't afford a cab. Others who were homebound got a direct visit from the doctor.

I do have one keepsake of my years as a Yoselevsky patient, a photograph I took of a painting of the doctor I unexpectedly encountered a couple years ago in a show at the Mystic Museum of Art.

The wonderful painting of the doctor behind his desk was by Roger Beers, an artist who was a neighbor of Yoselevsky's. Beers died last month.

I thank him for helping patients like me remember the attention from a doctor who, as was so well depicted by Beers, wanted to know how you feel. You can see it plainly in the painting. 

And I wish Dr. Yose a stellar, much-deserved retirement.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com 

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