Dec. 18, 2011 at 1:55 PM ET
The 100-year-old doctor still makes house calls.
He must, explains Dr. Fred Goldman.
That's where the patients are.
"If they're sick and can't leave home," he said, "I go to see them."
They came to see him Dec. 12. Patients, friends and family — some using walkers, some in strollers — gathered in numbers passing the century mark at the office he calls, "the dump," to throw a surprise birthday party for the internist who is the oldest licensed physician practicing medicine in the state of Ohio.
He surprised them. The guest of honor arrived 90 minutes early.
"I almost had a heart attack seeing all of the people in the hall and the waiting room," Goldman said between greeting well-wishers with a question about their health.
How's your ankle?
You still smoking?
"People ask me why do you go to a doctor who's 100?" said Patti Levine, a fourth-generation patient of the doctor. "I tell them, because he's seen it all and he knows everything."
The Blue Ash woman stood by a stroller holding her 10-month-old daughter, Madyson. "She's not his patient," Levine said, "yet."
Fellow physicians also gave birthday greetings to Goldman.
"He asked me to come work for him in 2007," said 85-year-old Dr. Leo Wayne. That's the year Wayne retired and Goldman, at the age of 96, cut back from five, eight-hour days a week to three.
"I told him I would not work for him," Wayne added. "I'm too young."
Would he prescribe retirement for his older friend and colleague?
"I would not dream of advising him to retire," Wayne replied. "Dr. Goldman is an excellent diagnostician. He knows his patients, including himself. He knows this patient is still up to the task."
As the birthday doctor worked the waiting and the hallway, his guests peppered him with questions.
How does it feel to be 100?
He examined both of his hands. He squeezed one. Then, the other.
"Don't feel anything different," he said with a sly smile.
"Most people my age," he added, "can't feel anything. They're dead."
The crowd laughed. So, did the 100-year-old birthday boy.
When Fred Goldman was literally a birthday boy, he was born on Dec. 12, 1911, at his family's home on Ninth Street in the West End.
"My mother — a housewife — was from Poland. My father — a shopkeeper — was from Russia," he said, "and I was from both of them."
A doctor since 1935
On the day the good doctor was born, another native Cincinnatian, William Howard Taft, waddled about the White House as the 27th President of the United States. Czar Nicholas II sat on the throne in Russia. George V, Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather, reigned as the King of England. Sun Yat-Sen had just been elected the provisional president of China. Sigmund Freud was seeing patients in Vienna.
"Hell, when I became a doctor in 1935," Goldman said, "Freud was still seeing patients."
In 1911, Madame Curie won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. George Washington Carver was in the midst of developing 100 products from peanuts. Alexander Fleming was 17 years from discovering penicillin. Arizona voters had removed the last obstacle for their territory to become the 48th state.
In baseball, the doctor's favorite sport as a kid, Ty Cobb won the 1911 American League batting title by hitting a robust .420. Goldman's hometown Cincinnati Reds finished sixth that year. The 1911 Reds lost 83 games, the same number of losses suffered by the Redlegs 100 years later in 2011.
Goldman shares a birth year with the 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan, comedian Lucille Ball, fellow Cincinnatian, Roy "King of the Cowboys" Rogers, Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenburg, the founder of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, playwright Tennessee Williams, politician Hubert H. Humphrey and actresses Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers. He has one thing going for him they don't. He's still alive.
"Want to see the rest of the dump?" he asked before leading visitors on a tour of his office. He sees 12 patients a day in his computer-free suite. His schedule is set by hand by his sole employee, office manager Patti Heath.
"I came to work here when he was 91," she said.
She thought she would be a short-timer. "Here I am nine years later. And he's still going strong. The first year I worked for him, I collapsed on a beach for my vacation. He hiked the wilderness in Alaska and lived in a tent. They don't make men like Fred Goldman anymore."
The century-old doctor's office overlooks Burnet Avenue, the former site of Jewish Hospital and the towers of University Hospital. When the latter was Cincinnati's General Hospital, he was making his rounds one day when he met, wooed and eventually wed Esther Nelson, a red-haired farm-girl turned nurse from Amelia.
"She was tending to my patients," he recalled. "And, she had her own ideas about things, which I admired. The best thing was she became the mother of our three kids, the best gifts she ever gave me."
One of his three sons, Tom Goldman, an audiologist at Jewish Hospital, joined the tour. He beamed at those words.
"I was a little, shy guy when I first dated Tom's mom," the doctor added. "I had never had a date with a woman before. This was around 1937. I asked her to go to dinner. She said, sure. I guess she was hungry."
They married the next year in Galveston, Texas, while he was teaching at the University of Texas.
"We were married by a justice of the peace," he recalled. "We stood in line with 30 drunken Mexicans who had just been arrested. The justice of the peace pushed me aside and asked if I had $25. I did. He married us right then and there with 30 drunken Mexicans as our witnesses."
Three years later, with America at war, the Goldmans returned to Cincinnati. He enlisted in the Navy.
"They took me three months later and I got out of the Navy in 1946. I served in the Pacific," he said. "I was in a unit with six docs and 20 corpsmen. We were sent wherever they had a battle."
He tried to gloss over his service. He mentioned in passing the names of five bloody battles: Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Bougainville, New Guinea, Leyte Gulf. Sometimes, he said matter of factly, he went to the front. Sometimes the front came to him.
His son produced a copy of a citation, signed by Adm. Chester Nimitz and awarded to Lt. Frederick M. Goldman, Medical Corps, "for meritorious service . . . on numerous occasions when the camp was subjected to Japanese bombing and shelling attacks, he left the comparative safety of his foxhole and proceeded to the aid of injured personnel."
Goldman shrugged his shoulders. "I saved some people," he said with a wave of his hand. "That's what I was supposed to do."
He returned to his office tour. Next stop: His examining room. The birthday doctor pointed out the original art work on the wall. Every painting, every photo came from a patient.
"These are paintings of scenes from Switzerland," he said with sweep of his steady hands. "They're by a painter who just signed her works with her first name, Jenetta. She's dead now — as are most of my patients."
A wise-guy on the tour asked if that reflected poorly on his skills as a physician.
Goldman grinned and explained: "I just outlived them."
Another party guest asked the centenarian tour guide for his secret to a long life. The doctor looked around the room. He spoke in a whisper as if he were giving directions to the Fountain of Youth.
"I have no secrets," he confided. "Haven't a clue why I've lived this long. Maybe it's because my office is a mess and I keep saying I'm going to clean it up. That keeps me going. That and it's in my genes. My mother died at 91. So did one of my brothers. Another brother died in his 80s. So did my sister."
He made a short list of his vices. He doesn't exercise. "I keep moving. That's my workout," said the man who gave up cutting his grass two years ago. (He lives alone on a cattle farm in Bethel.) He stopped hiking the wilds of Alaska ("the place I love") in 2007. That same year he quit cleaning his gutters — "my balance was off. I still miss doing that."
He "never" smoked cigarettes. He "rarely" smoked a pipe. He "temporarily" smoked a Cuban cigar after dinner "but then Castro took over Cuba. When Cuban quit (being a free county), I quit smoking." He has "no taste" for alcohol. He drinks a beer "once in a while." As for wine, "only on Passover."
He recalled an overseas Passover during World War II. "The Navy sent a rabbi ashore to celebrate Passover with wine," he said. "Suddenly, everyone around me was Jewish."
Bumps in life
He admitted to "having some bumps in life." He survived major heart surgery and licked prostate cancer. "I had good doctors," he explained, "who took good care of me. "
Last winter he suffered several bumps. While making a house call, he went up a snow-covered set of steps that had no handrail. He slipped. Down he went. Bruised. But not broken. He has already told that patient "if you get sick this winter, I'm coming in by way of your garage."
The biggest bump he suffered was when his wife of 60 years died in 1998.
"She suffered from a brain tumor," he said. For the first time on this festive day, a trace of sadness appeared in his strong voice. He suffered, too. "I still miss her," he said, looking toward a photo of "my Esther" standing on shelf by his desk.
"When she died, I had to go on," he said, "I could not afford to feel sorry for myself. I had to be diverted by work."
He looked once more at the photo of her holding an infant. "There she is with one of my babies."
He keeps her photo within view for inspiration. On the same wall hangs another source of inspiration, a close-up of Abraham Lincoln's face as it appears on his statue in Lytle Park.
"Old Abe's my favorite President," Goldman said.
"Dad likes him so much because he was one of his patients," joked Tom Goldman. His dad feigned a frown.
"I have no patience for such remarks," he said, laughing with his son and at his pun.
Fred Goldman decided to become a doctor right before graduating from Hughes High School — "shortly before the dawn of time."
He said he waited "until the last minute to apply to the University of Cincinnati's medical school. I never regretted for a minute going into medicine. And I have no plans of getting out of it."
He followed in the medical footsteps of his older brother, Leon Goldman, world-famous long before his death, in 1997 at the age of 91, as the father of laser surgery.
"He founded UC's dermatology department. The laser made him famous all over," the younger Goldman brother said. "He was a genius. I was never as good as he. I am just a doctor."
He has no plans of stopping.
"Work is life," he said. "I work on demand. If there's not much demand, there's not much work. Fortunately, the demand exists. I feel I can still be helpful to people. And, I can still do the job. So, there's no sense to consider retirement."
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