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Doctor helps New Orleans heal

Internist tries to practice medicine 'as usual' amid devastation

By Peggy Peck
MedPage Today Managing Editor

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Dr. Barry Goldman said New Orleans' healing is a little more apparent every day.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (MedPage Today) -- Like Dorothy and Toto, Dr. Barry Goldman is definitely not in Kansas anymore -- and his patients are most grateful.

Goldman, 56, is one of many primary-care physicians who has decided to stay the course and attempt to practice medicine "as usual" amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

But his office at the Ochsner Clinic's neighborhood branch in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans, is far removed from Kansas where he grew up and practiced medicine for 18 years.

Goldman got his baptism in hurricane survival during Hurricane Georges in 1998.

"That was really a minor hurricane, but it was anxiety-producing," Goldman recalls.

As he talks about the hurricane experience, he often refers to the anxiety of living in area that is below sea level, where the risk of flood is very real.

The experiences with Katrina were very different from Georges.

"Everyone is still a little testy as we are waiting to find out if we are going to get the levees back."

Total loss

While his medical office escaped damage, Goldman's home did not.

"I lost my home. We had a foot and half of water in the first floor of our three-story townhouse and the roof came off. The house is now gutted to the studs and being rebuilt."

He and his wife, meanwhile, have been living in an apartment that is cramped but livable. One of Goldman's favorite leisure activities is cooking and unfortunately the tiny apartment kitchen is not conducive to gourmet cooking. Likewise, he hasn't been able to bike in the months since the storm but said he hopes that he will be able to resume that hobby in the near the future.

Goldman said he closed his medical office on August 28 when he and his wife evacuated to higher ground.

During the "dark days of September, I really didn't know what would happen." But when he reopened the office on September 28 he was surprised to find that people just "stopped by to tell us how grateful they were that we were back."

He opened his office during what he calls call Rita week.

"That's when we had to evacuate again because of Hurricane Rita." He was initially opened for only 3 1/2 days but during that time "we saw 40 or 50 patients."

Cornucopia of emotions

Fortunately, the Rita evacuation was short.

"We came back on Sunday and we were at work on Monday. We've been open every day since then."

But life here is not back to normal.

"Our patients are slowly starting to come back but the area is still devastated," he said. "There is still no electricity in much of New Orleans and there is nobody in this city who is not depressed or who hasn't experienced some sense of loss or grief. This is cornucopia of emotions."

His practice is still dominated by patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but now "I am regularly treating post-traumatic stress disorder."

Drawn to diagnosis and patient management

Goldman attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and went on to medical school at the University of Kansas.

"I originally planned to become a urologist," he said. But during his medical school years he decided, "that I wasn't really interested in surgery. I was more drawn to cognitive aspects of medicine -- diagnosis and management of patients."

As a result, he opted to train as an internist, the medical specialty that is devoted to the primary care of adults.

After practicing in Kansas City for almost two decades, he was offered a position with the Ochsner Clinic.

Moving on

In an era when a visit to the doctor often means an encounter of just a few minutes, Goldman said that practicing medicine in New Orleans requires time. "You can't just rush in and rush out. You have to sit there and hear their stories and feel their pain and relate their losses."

Fortunately, he said, few patients need extra coaxing.

" 'How did you make out with the storm?' That's the question that everybody asks. It is just the focus of most conversations."

Goldman said he is hoping that as the city heals -- and he said that healing is more apparent every day -- that question will fade from prominence.

"It is getting a little old to always focus on the storm," he said.

Meanwhile Goldman said he is happy to share storm experiences with his patients and to spend time tracking down patients who may never come back to the city.

"Slowly, I'm hearing from these patients, sometimes it is a request for medical records or a prescription refill. Sometimes it's just a call from a patient who wants to know if we're still here."

For those patients Goldman has this assurance: "I'm still here and I'm going to stay. I have a wonderful practice and wonderful patients."

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