Louis Chargin, M.D. (1879? – 1969)

Recollections of an Office Visit by, the then pre-teen, Barry Mayer, M.D., FACR

My uncle had a dairy farm in Orange County, New York where I spent all summer and most of my vacations working and playing from the ages of about 7 to 11 years old. Our family primary care physician was a loyal referrer to Dr. Louis Chargin, a renown Bronx dermatologist. As a youngster I had seen him at least once for problems I can’t remember now.

One summer, when I was around ten, I developed an annular eruption about 2-3 inches in diameter on the extensor surface of my right forearm.  It was a mystery to my G.P., so he referred me to Chargin.  My mother drove me from New Jersey to the Bronx to see the eccentric skin doctor. If I recall, he didn’t make appointments, so you arrived as early as possible and sat and hoped you’d get to see him before closing time.

In his dark office was a huge desk with a pile of paper money stacked on the edge near the patient. He apparently would have nothing to do with handling the cash and would have patients simply drop their fee on top of the pile of greenbacks to be collected later by one of his office staff.  He was economical with his words and was not a gifted communicator, although there was no doubt about the diagnosis when he pronounced it.

After hearing my history he looked at the lesion and suggested it was some form of dairy-related fungal infection, prescribed I don’t know what, and sent us on our way. After several weeks to months, the skin cleared with no recurrence.

Note:  Louis Chargin was born in 1879 or ‘81 and graduated from University of Maryland Medical School in 1902. His obituary in the Archives of Dermatology1 attests that it was not just in the eyes of a pre-teen boy that he was viewed as unusual.  “As a person, Louis Chargin gave the impression of being a difficult man to get close to. He was too brusk in his concept of intellectual honesty. He could not abide sham and thus was sometimes irrascible and offensive, at first, to the naive. Consequently, he was most of the time a loner. Few, then, were his intimates, but those who were admitted to his limited sociability were doubly fortunate because he was, fundamentally, so true and perceptive a friend.”  This excerpt probably accounts for the fact that Dr. Mayer remembers his unusual office visit so vividly more than six decades later.

Reference:
1.  Silver H, Louis Chargin, MD. (1879-1969). Arch Dermatol. 1969 Aug;100(2):259.

Comments:
In his time, in the Annals of Bronx Dermatology, Chargin was a larger than life character.  How sad what a small footprint this great and quirky man left.  Dr. Mayer’s recollections are inspirational and poignant and make us want to know more about Chargin and those upon whose whose shoulders we stand.

from Jerome Litt, Beachwood, Ohio
I knew Chargin.  He wore suspenders in his office and also slippers.  He kept a drawer open for his patients to drop in the five-dollar bills he charged for every patient visit.  If a patient had psoriasis, his pat remark was ” Sorry. I cannot help you,” and gave the patient his five dollars back.

from DJ Elpern
The practice of patients putting money in the physician’s drawer may have been more widespread in the past.  Here is a recollection about James Bovell recounted in Cushing’s biography of Osler:
One afternoon, I had some engagement with Osler and called for him at Bovell’s office. The room was large and bare with a few chairs and a small deal table – like a kitchen table.  Osler opened the drawer of the table – Dr, B, had gone out – and said: “Look here! This drawer had been filled to overflowing with bills two or three times this afternoon and now look.”  One solitary bill lay in the drawer.  As the patients paid their fees Osler placed them in the drawer.  A needy patient came along, and Dr. B. reversed the process and handed money out so that the sick man might get his medicine and the food and other things required.

Author Bio:  Barry S. Mayer, M.D., FACR is a retired radiologist who has practiced for the most part in Oregon.  An avid fly fisherman, he resides in rural Vermont, near to the American Museum of Fly Fishing.  You may reach him at B Mayer email.  (Photo from Fish Eye Guy Photography)

 

 

 

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6 comments on “Louis Chargin, M.D. (1879? – 1969)

  1. Emily M. Altman, MD, FAAD on said:

    Fascinating that a child would remember a doctor’s visit so vividly sixty years later. I wish I knew Dr. Chargin.

  2. Mrs. Kaplan on said:

    As a young, newly married woman in the early 1960’s, my mother took me to see Dr. Chargin. When I got back from my honeymoon in Florida my tan began to fade. Within a couple of months all signs of a tan were gone except for a brown spot on my neck which began to get bigger. Dr. Chargin came in to the office, looked at my brown spot and told me to go home, put vineger on it twice a day and eat plaine yogurt. He then sent me into his office and told me to sit and wait for him. I was uncomfortable sitting by his desk with the pile of money so I stood at the doorway. When he came in he “yelled” at me for not sitting on the chair. I left my money and went home to follow his instructions. In 2 weeks it was gone. Amazing . . . no medicine.

    • Elizabeth Gilman Gross on said:

      When I graduated from HS, I worked for Dr Chargin (in 1965) as a sort of nurse. I never saw piles of money but he certainly was a character. Elderly patients brought their grandchildren for acne problems. Both generations were appalled. I loved him. A real humanitarian!!

  3. Paul and Jean on said:

    Dr. Chargin was our skin doctor in the 1950s. We lived on 96th street in Manhattan, I think he had an office in Manhattan also at the time. A very wonderful and sweet man. He treated me for shingles, I was 9 or 10 years old, even though it wasn’t strictly a dermatology condition. My brother Andy also went to see him for various skin ailments. So long ago, all gone now. Goodby Dr. C, if there is a place you go to, a nice place, wishing you are there.

  4. Paul and Jean on said:

    ps to above.

    The Mount Sinai Hospital was just a few blocks away from our apartment in Manhattan, and that’s where Dr. Chargin saw us. Yes, as mentioned above, he was was a no-nonsense person, a “character,” but with a kind heart. And, from a practical point, once cortisone became available to him, there was no stopping! Often wondered “what did dermatologists do before cortisone?” He ha.

  5. humanemedicine on said:

    My parents took me to see Dr. Louis Chargin when I was a child. His office was on Central Park West, in Manhattan, if my recollection is correct. He may have had an office in the Bronx (where we lived) but I am almost sure that I saw him in Manhattan).
    When we arrived at the office, there was a man dressed in workman’s clothing on a ladder, painting the room.
    We were ushered into the examination room and shortly after, the man who was painting the office came in. He was Dr. Chargin!
    I was astonished when he asked me “What’s the matter sonny? Losing your hair?” How did he know?
    As I have evolved in the practice of dermatology, I realized that Dr. Chargin undoubtedly noticed that I did not have acne or any other visible disease and he deduced that I must be losing my hair, as the next common malady of someone my age.
    I think he had a box on his desk, perhaps a cigar box, and instructed my parents to deposit the fee into it.
    Some time later, I was taken to see an associate, Dr. Henry Silver, who burned off a verruca from my right index finger. Some years later, I saw Dr. Silver at a meeting, after becoming a dermatologist, and showed him the results of his handiwork. I still have a small scar from the procedure. We both laughed.

    Stephen Danziger, MD, FAAD, FACP
    Chief of Dermatology, New York Methodist Hospital, Brooklyn, NY
    Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY

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