COVINGTON, Ky - Henry Sams sits patiently in a jam-packed waiting room, anticipating his turn to see Dr. John Redden, who he has called on since the physician opened the doors to his Covington office in 1956.
While his foot is ailing him, Sams admits that he really just wants to get some one-on-one time with his favorite MD one last time.
For this day may look like any other day at Redden’s office – patients walk in, take a seat and wait their turn — no appointment necessary. But this day is different. It’s the last day of 67 years of practicing medicine, the last day the 90-year-old Redden will see his patients.
Patients like 76-year-old Sams who considers himself to be in “pretty good shape,” thanks to Redden, who to Sams is more than a lifelong, trusted physician.
“He’s been a friend to me. We’ve had a lot of good talks in there,” he noted while pointing to the closed exam room door.
The doctor’s one and only exam room’s door slowly creeks open, revealing a smiling snow-white haired man. He reaches out and shakes Sams’ hand, greeting him, as his other hand swings around and pats him on the back. “Hi there. How ya doin’? Come on in,” he calls out.
The aging doctor accompanies Sams into his office. They take their seats across from each other and the chat between doctor and patient vs. friend to friend begins to blur.
They rest their elbows on the counter situated next to their chairs. Glass jars, filled with cotton swabs, wooden tongue compressors and syringes, are evenly lined up against the back of the counter next to the sink and the neatly stacked, multi-colored patient charts.
Redden asks how Sams is feeling and examines his patient’s slightly swollen and somewhat discolored foot, which is propped up on his knee so that he can get a closer look. His eyes focus keenly above his gold, square-framed spectacles.
After some quick foot talk, the two old friends swap stories about dandelion wine, farm work and coyotes. The doctor’s weathered hands seem to do most of the talking. His eyes wrinkle up and he throws his head back in a hearty chuckle.
His laughter is infectious and upbeat personality contagious—all a recipe for the perfect medicine, he said.
“In my mind, talking to them about their problems… talking it out can help more than any medicine I can give [them],” said Redden.
“I’m a talker… if I quit talking, I’m ready to die,” he said, shaking his head and giggling.
It’s that type of care, compassion and humor that Sams and his many other patients will remember for years.
“I’m going to miss you like my left arm,” Sams said to Redden. “I’ve found a good friend in you.”
Over the decades, Redden has held his patients’ hands, cried alongside them, and delivered most of them into this world. They are like family to him, making it difficult to put away his otoscope for the last time.
“When I see these patients, I’m not sure I should be retiring,” he said.
The doctor is in
Redden started practicing medicine in 1946 after graduating from the University of Louisville during WWII.
After a brief stint practicing in Fort Thomas, Ky., and then at a hospital in Miami, Fla., the U.S. declared war. The doctor was commissioned by the Navy, and later by the Army at Camp Atterbury, during the Korean War.
After the war, he settled in San Diego, Calif., before returning to Northern Kentucky. While living in Covington, he reminisced about how he would wake up, run to the hospital, deliver a baby, and go home and back to bed.
The doctor, who now lives in Fort Mitchell, Ky. and is the father of 10, grandfather of 25 and great-grandfather of nine, has always loved what he said he was born to do.
“To have a job and not be happy? I can’t think of anything much worse,” said Redden with a wide grin stretching across his wrinkled face.
A service to his community
Once dubbed as “Doctor City,” Covington had a physician on every corner. As other doctors moved out of town, Redden stayed put, remembered his office manager of 32 years, Margie Meehan.
At one time, he was seeing more than 100 patients in a day, charging just $2 for a doctor’s visit and $4 for a house call. Over the years, he stopped making the house calls and saw fewer patients on a daily basis. However, his rate was always fair which Redden said he believes aided the underserviced within the community. It didn’t matter to him if his patients had money, as long as he could help them.
“I don’t think people will understand the service that he provided. He never turned away someone because they couldn’t pay,” said Meehan.
At one point Redden said he thought he would retire at age 55. Looking back he said he is glad to have lost that passing desire.
But after nearly seven decades -- 57 years of that in his Covington office – Redden decided that it was time to hang up his stethoscope.
After holding his normal Saturday office hours on June 29, he celebrated his retirement with who else but his patients, his family and his friends. To Redden, they are all one in the same.
“I don’t think you’ll find another doctor in the world who’s better to their patients than grandpa,” said medical assistant and granddaughter, Sarah Flohr.
Closing up shop means nearly 2,200 patients will be sent to other area doctors for treatment, but Redden hopes that his legacy will live on.
“I want them to remember that I was good to them. [Patients] tell me they love me. I can’t hear anything better,” said Redden. “’Love’ is the best word I know.”