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