Dr. Boudwin, Taking the Time to Listen

Last week, I mentioned that our family physician, Dr. James Boudwin, passed away last April from COVID. This reference sparked much interest and I appreciate all the feedback. Some asked how he contracted the virus. (Though he exercised caution, he apparently caught it very early on, before we fully understood the mitigation protocols.) But most thought it touching that I referred to him as our beloved family physician and appreciated that I included his photo. I’d like to share a story about him that speaks to the kind of physician he was, a doctor deeply devoted to his patients.

A few years ago, as my wife, Amy, was completing her doctorate in medical humanities, we asked Dr. Boudwin if he could share some insights that might be applicable to her studies. He was a humble person and would have been mortified at the thought of showcasing himself. So, really, it was like pulling teeth.

Dr. James Boudwin

He relented when we asked if he could give an example of what perseverance looks like. He shared a story about a patient, who I’ll call Jayne. Like us, Jayne had been seeing Dr. Boudwin for many years.  Apparently, Jayne had a spike in her blood pressure that was perplexing because of its sudden onset. Dr. Boudwin told us that he asked her lots of questions about changes in diet and lifestyle that might account for it. Was she experiencing more stress lately? Changes in sleep habits? Was she exercising more? Exercising less? Any new foods? New spices? New restaurants? On and on. Nothing different about Jayne’s life or behavior stood out or could explain the recent blood pressure uptick.

Dr. Boudwin told us that he could have prescribed medication to lower her blood pressure. It would have been a logical solution. An ACE inhibitor would do the trick, just like it does for so many people. And, given the good quality of her health, there were no real side effects to be concerned about.

But the abrupt nature of the onset of high blood pressure lingered with him.  He had a nagging feeling that the problem was related to some change in her environment or her habits rather than a physiological, hormonal, or chemical change in her body.

Dr. Boudwin requested that Jayne come in for another appointment. He spent an hour with her, asking her to walk through her entire day, moment by moment. At some point in the discussion, he asked about how much water she drank and how often she refilled her glass. Jayne replied that she didn’t change her water drinking habits at all. In fact, she explained, she is very conscious of the amount of water she drinks and even has a water filtration system. He asked if she always uses the same brand of filter. She replied that they had for years but just recently changed brands when offered a discount.

As they sat in the exam room, Dr. Boudwin looked up both water filter brands, the old one and the new one. He learned that the new water filter did not remove sodium as did her former brand. He suggested she return to that prior brand, which she did. Guess what? Jayne’s blood pressure soon returned to normal.

Dr. Boudwin cared for his patients on a personal level. Every one of them. He took the time, even while his waiting room was filled with patients, to delve into why Jayne suddenly had a change in blood pressure. His sleuthing was above and beyond what the majority of time-constrained physicians might pursue. But he did, and in so doing prevented this patient from a future of constant blood pressure monitoring and medication control. And the patients in the waiting room waited patiently, without complaint, because each knew that when their turn came, they would receive that same level of attention, care, and concern. In this way, the “community” of his patients were more accommodating of one another, kinder to one another than one might find in a waiting room. His generosity was infectious.

It was not uncommon for Dr. Boudwin to work 60 or even 70 hours a week. He wouldn’t rest until his patients’ needs were addressed completely. I learned a lot from him about dedication to a profession and those we serve. He is missed by a great many people.