Change may be “the universe breathing” but when it comes as a surprise it especially needs to be embraced and dealt with.

A few weeks back I received notice from North Shore University Medical that I would need to find a new primary care physician; Dr. James McCulloch was retiring. I had to read the letter twice to let the news take hold.

“But he can’t be that old,” I said out loud to no one but myself. Retire? He’s too good at what he does to do that, I argued wondering where I would ever find another doctor quite like him. Jim has been my primary, go-to guy for 37 years. Thirty-seven years! In this age of medical care musical chairs, Wagnerian thunder and all, he has always been there.

As the aftershock settled I went online to northshoreconnect.org to make a final appointment. No, it wasn’t for post-traumatic stress syndrome. I just needed to say a special “Thank you” but also get a referral. Over the years, Jim had never given me a bum steer in that regard. He invariably made certain I was in good hands.

The wonderful piece about Dr. McCulloch is that he was always worth waiting for since he never seemed rushed; never “on the clock.” He had a caring and thoroughly professional presence, always. His physicals were thorough and never routine or haphazard. He found my prostate cancer and connected me with excellent specialists for treatment and surgery. He always asked about seatbelt usage and pushed for flu shots which he let me wave off.  And he could be teased. Once while examining my pupils, he said, “Look at my nose.” I said, “Do I have to?” and we both cracked up. I owe him so much for his care on so many levels.

Oddly, my final appointment with Jim was much like every other. We didn’t shake hands till he applied and wiped his disinfectant. He then asked what brought me there. I mentioned the letter and he smiled. I said, “You’re too young and too good at what you do to retire.” His smile broadened with a thank you and he said, “It’s make up time for my family, Charlie, and I am looking very forward to it.”

“Well, I am happy for you but sad for myself,” I said, adding, “I hope you find whatever you are looking for every day in this gift of time, Jim. But you need to know you will be greatly missed.”

We talked referral; he checked out my lungs and my ears for wax build-up and asked about a flu shot. We both smiled at that. Then I said, “Okay. That will be my going away present to you.” After that he said I was “good to go.” We shook hands, Jim saying, “Charlie, you’ve been almost like family to me over the years.” I nodded and said, “You have been family, Jim. Thank you.”