For Dr. Paul Weinberg, retiring from 30 years as a busy ER doctor is just a passing phase.
This Woodstock-rocking Baby Boomer’s career has been a repeating series of adventure mixed with some stability.
There are few clinicians with more experience treating and managing patients directly on the front line of medicine in the emergency department, and even fewer who expanded their horizons to general medical attention and emergencies around the world.
A father of two grown children, Dr. Weinberg has never been the settle-down type, even from an early age, and now, as he contemplates retirement, it’s not for the first time.
Dr. Weinberg has tried stepping back from the busy world of ER room before. For a brief time, he had a private practice time in North Hollywood, but there were so many healthy patients that the young physician was kind of bored.
After early ABEM (American Board of Emergency Medicine) certification in the late ‘70s, Dr. Weinberg was drawn into the intense but fulfilling practice at a very busy high volume and high acuity urban Orange County, California, Trauma Center with a full-service medical center including OB, Neonatal, Oncology, Cardiac Surgery, and Pediatrics.
Although he was full-time there from 1976-2006, Dr. Weinberg stepped away before settling down for his 30-year practice and ended up in the Mountains of Papua New Guinea as part of a medical school summer fellowship at the Institute of Human Biology, Goroka, Papua New Guinea.
For six-plus weeks, he trekked around the highlands examining patients for goiter, treating females of child bearing age against endemic cretinism caused by Iodine deficiency with injections of Iodinated material, and evaluating Kuru patients, a slow prion disease spread by cannibalism, particularly from consumption of the brain. It was remote; a two-week trek from the nearest airstrip.
Dr. Weinberg extended the adventure. Between sophomore and junior year of medical school in the early ‘70s, he traveled westward from Los Angeles and showed up about two weeks late for the start of his third year of medical school. Although it was academic torment catching up, he believes it was worth it.
Dr. Weinberg made house calls to the homebound elderly in a fishing village in a remote Arctic Inuit village in Northwest Alaska. He remembers the wonderful town, with little income disparity, where everyone worked, and had very few chronic problems. The community seemed to have a very comforting commonality.
Traveling east, he headed to Gros Vente Reservation of Northern Montana, and the Supai Reservation in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona, where the undereducated population, many with only 8th grade education, were suspicious of outsiders and very non-compliant medically.
Stability never kept him away from his passion. When he was at home, Dr. Weinberg offered care for the local mechanics and cowboys who needed medical help, has diagnosed and made surgical repairs on the family and neighbors’ dogs, chickens, and horses, and once helped the vet with critical care for a newborn goat.
For Dr. Weinberg, the need for adventure began early.
In high school, during the sixties, he went on a bicycle trip, the length of Long Island, which is about 110 miles, a dangerous journey with too much traffic and many flat tires, but setbacks don’t deter the Doctor and adventure keeps pulling him back onto the road.
After high school in the late sixties and early seventies, he hitchhiked from Montreal into Ohio and Quebec, where he met some FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) members.
He spent a summer at sea working as a deckhand aboard a Swedish oil tanker: NYC-Lake Maricaibo Venezuela-Rouen, France, then hitchhiked from Rouen through the UK, Scandinavia, and Europe before finally arriving in Istanbul.
His Memorial Day attempt to climb Mt. Marcy, the highest in New York State, failed because of inexperience, snow depth and hypothermia, but he later successfully summited it. He has climbed Mt Whitney in California – twice – as well as Mt. Kinabalu, the highest in South East Asia; and has learned to SCUBA dive, ride and jump horses. His tamer activities include bird watching and auto mechanics, but even his family adventures are extraordinary. On one family trip, with his wife and kids, they took a two-week freighter cruise through the Marquesas.
Even after leaving the busy medical practice in the late 2000s, Dr. Weinberg didn’t slow down. He went from the heroin scourged towns of Ohio, the all-but-abandoned towns in eastern New Mexico, which reminded him of Mars, treeless with blowing red dust and the remaining population too poor or dull to leave, on to Texas, with its gun loving, conservative, Southern, true Tex-Mex feel, and Guadalupe, California, where the farm workers offered gifts of strawberries and broccoli.
For a while he practiced in the Virgin Islands, its black poverty-stricken community undiluted with whiteness and its ganja-smoking Rastafarians; Polynesia; and American Samoa, with its true Polynesian-style undiluted with European and tourist influences now being devastated by a fast-food diet and galloping obesity.
Dr. Weinberg saw many extremes in his travels, from Garberville, California, the marijuana capital of the US that was an experiment in community use, where he observed a quiet and dumbed down population, contrasted with Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of high-tech government research center. In this city, the scientists and engineers gave perfect histories and descriptions of their illnesses that the Doctor hardly had to ask any questions, but their questions to him were often too deep for the Doctor to answer.
His travels in medicine have included extremes in elevation, from Mount Whitney, the highest level in the continental US, to Death Valley, the lowest elevation below sea level. These cases included people lost or falling on the mountain or desert.
International travels included medical tours to the Soviet Union, on which he occasionally responded to medical call for help on flights.
Sometimes, he had to be inventive. At a beer and pizza event, a guest fell off a type of skate board breaking his forearm. Dr. Weinberg immediately splinted the limb with a hastily refashioned cardboard pizza box and duct tape, and suggested the patient be driven, slowly, to the ED for care.
Although he was far away, home was also calling. During his travels, on long-distance calls he still gave advice to friends and family with local and overseas needs, about abdominal pain and chest pain at all hours, particularly from his male friends as they got older.
Even now that his children are grown, this has not slowed Dr. Weinberg down.
For Dr. Weinberg, retirement is just a phase. As he travels the country, Dr. Weinberg continues to work in Emergency departments, large and small, quiet and busy.
The adventure continues.