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Letter: Dr. Chuck Rogers Was ‘One of a Kind’

Even here in my suburban Atlanta home, I learned of the death of Dr. Charles “Chuck” Rogers soon after his passing. Shortly after that, I read the tribute to him printed in the Port Washington News, written by his friend Robert Obojski. Mr. Obojski’s insight into the man was revealing, but my only knowledge of Dr. Rogers was professional — if you can call it that!

 

In 1966, when I was 16 years old, I was a volunteer at St. Francis Hospital, assigned to a ward for about 25 girls who would call St. Francis Hospital their home for anywhere from six months to two or three years — the length of time it would take them to recover from rheumatic fever and the effects of that illness on their hearts. While there, I noticed the “tiny-detail” things; for example, the administrator of the hospital who, despite her position, and dressed in her snowy-white habit as a religious sister, never hesitated to bend over to pick up a scrap of litter on the floor of the lobby and deposit it in the nearest trash receptacle. I noticed the doctors who cared for “my” girls — notably, my own family doctor (and former neighbor), the late Dr. Bill Wagner, who, with both the latest in medical know-how of that time and his legendary sense of humor, hastened the children’s recoveries. We young volunteers also quickly learned a lot (via the hospital grapevine that missed nothing) about the charismatic and knowledgeable Dr. Charles Rogers.

At the age of 17, in my senior year in high school, in addition to my volunteer job at St. Francis, I had my first real part-time job, having been hired as a nurses’ aide at the Manhasset Medical Center and Hospital. MMCH was a small hospital, to be sure, but extended privileges to some of the finest physicians on Long Island at that time, among them, Dr. Charles Rogers. Some of those physicians terrified me. I was in awe of others. Some of the youngest ones at that time later became slightly older social acquaintances and neighbors when my husband and I raised our own family in Manhasset. (I had no problem reminding them of my former terror/awe and/or admiration of them.)

But the memory of one doctor at MMH has stayed with me all these years and has become, in a way, the measuring stick with which I’ve chosen every physician of my own since that time: Dr. Charles Rogers.

Never one to look down on any employee at the Manhasset Hospital, Dr. Rogers, even after learning that I was off to college to major in psychology (not nursing or pre-med), never excluded me from a group at the nurses’ station when he was explaining a procedure (complete with diagrams), a disease process, or some new medication. (Believe me, too, when I say that a mini-lecture from Dr. Rogers was the equivalent of a college or graduate-level class and that he was an excellent teacher.) When I assisted him in a simple procedure — a dressing change or the like, which didn’t require a registered nurse — on one of his patients, he would include me in his conversation with the patient, putting that patient (not to mention me!) at ease.

But what captured my attention and engendered my greatest respect for him was this, a story I’ve told to many people over the years. One Sunday morning at Manhasset Medical Center, after breakfasts were delivered, patients fed, bathed, beds made, meds dispensed (the latter by nurses, not by me, of course!), I was walking quickly down the hall on the fifth floor to answer a call light from one of the rooms. When I got there, Dr. Rogers was already inside the room. As he had been making rounds of his patients, he heard this particular patient – not one of his own — calling, “Nurse! Nurse!” from within that room. Now, the call, “Nurse! Nurse!” (as anyone who has worked in a hospital can tell you) can mean anything from “I dropped my dentures on the floor!” to “Uh-oh, this is the Big One!” but usually falls somewhere squarely in the middle of those two extremes. Dr. Rogers, having heard the patient call out, walked his reassuring self into her room, assessed the situation, and had pressed the call button himself. But in the meantime, he had begun to assist the patient, who was quite actively sick to her stomach. (Trust me on this — no other doctor in the house would have done that, even for his or her own patients!) By the time I got to the patient’s room, there was tall, distinguished-looking Dr. Rogers, dressing in his Sunday best, holding the patient’s bedside emesis basin under her chin, and — yes! — was a little bit soiled himself (hazard of the job he had chosen to undertake!), but not a bit annoyed. I took the basin from him, upon which he, after speaking kindly to the patient, a stranger to him, casually strolled out of the room.

Later that day, while sitting in the hospital’s tiny dining room — an unusual setup for that time, where people sat together no matter what their positions were in the hospital, especially on Sundays when the noon meal, which was personally prepared by the head chef, was good enough to tempt even attending physicians to stay for lunch — I asked Dr. Rogers (now wearing a borrowed scrub shirt to replace his stained suit jacket and shirt) why he had entered that patient’s room when most doctors would have strolled right on by, unconcerned by (or unaware of) a patient’s soft cries of distress. He was genuinely shocked. “Who wouldn’t have done what I did?” I didn’t disillusion him; instead, I remained mum.

Since that time, I’ve employed my own personal “Rogers’ Rule” in selecting physicians for myself and my family: They have all possessed these qualifications: Good credentials and clear (but not condescending) teaching skills. Moreover, they have all been physicians into whose care other doctors and nurses would entrust their own family members.

Even after I was somewhat limited in choice of physicians by the constraints imposed by whatever insurance plan that held me and my family captive, there was room for some choice. My “Rogers Rule” has continued to come into play for the last 30 years or so. While Dr. Charles Rogers was one of a kind, and I was privileged to have known him when I was so young, I am happy to report that the “Rogers Rule” still works. After all, Dr. Rogers wouldn’t have joined an exclusive club in which there weren’t other members who would also have asked what he incredulously asked of me: “Who wouldn’t have done what I did?” I have a feeling that Dr. Rogers is sitting down right now with the Greatest Healer of them all, helping out when it isn’t expected of him, and is, even as I write this, pointing down at some young boy or girl, and suggesting just the right medical school and mentors!

Thank you, Dr. Rogers, for a life well lived in dedicated, professional, and humane service to so many!

Cara Sheridan O’Donnell

(Formerly of Port Washington and Manhasset)