This month, Scottsdale pediatrician Arturo Gonzalez, M.D., ends a two-year term as board president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He talks about backyard surgery, “Dr. Google” and barriers to pediatric health care.
You were born in Nogales, Ariz. What are your earliest memories of visiting the doctor?
They are not good. I hate to say that! I literally cried en route to the doctor’s office, in the waiting room and during the entire visit, according to my mother. When I was born I had congenital hip dysplasia [a dislocation of the hip joint]. Unfortunately, my pediatrician missed it. Because of that, I had many, many visits to doctors. One would tell them one thing and my parents were not happy with them, so they’d go to another doctor, and so forth.
You were just a toddler at the time. What do you remember?
They casted me from a little higher than the hip all the way down. There was a sand bag at the end of the table attached to my legs, pulling my legs. The hope was that if they put you in an angle so the hip would set in place, you would never need surgery. But after three failed attempts, I ended up having surgery when I was about a year and a half of age.
Did those experiences as a small child lead to a curiosity about science and medical procedures?
Ironically, because I went so many times, it influenced me to think about medicine. So I have to have had some good memories embedded within those bad memories where I was in pain. I’ve always been interested in science. I was one of those kids who would ask Santa Claus for a microscope, or a chemistry set. I’m the second of 11 kids, and my brothers and sisters thought I was a dork. I would hunt for lizards and I’m sorry to say, I did surgery on them. I would sew them up with my mother’s sewing kit.
You went on to complete your higher education in Guadalajara, Mexico. Why?
All my brothers and sisters went to the University of Arizona. I wanted to be as far away from the house as possible. And back in the ’70s, Guadalajara was kind of an adventure. After completing medical school, I practiced general medicine for about three years at the Nogales border, at both the Mexican side and the American side. I donated my services to a little Catholic dispensary on the Mexican side, which was really rewarding.
Adult medicine was not what you expected, so you applied for a residency in pediatrics in New York.
I dreaded even going to the office. No disrespect for those who practice adult medicine, but I’ve always loved children. I’ve always had a knack for making kids laugh and smile. And it reminded me again of when I was a little kid. One of my medical dreams was to diagnose, and not miss, a baby with congenital hip dysplasia, and have the baby not go through what I went through. The first time this occurred, I felt fulfilled and I even had to hold back my tears from the parents. It felt great.
How has the role of the pediatrician changed since you began practicing?
With the widespread availability of the Internet, smart phones and “Dr. Google,” we all have access to what we believe is the latest in medical diagnosis and treatment. We find ourselves having to discuss and clarify the information parents are reading or hearing in the media more often than before. This is another opportunity for open communication between us and the parents.
What’s the most important challenge within children’s health issues today?
My biggest concern is the access to care. I understand the state of the economy in the state and across the nation. With health care reform, I hope we do the right thing, and especially for children. They are our future. I even tell my patients when I examine them, I want you to do well, because one of these days Dr. G.’s going to be an old geezer, and you may be taking care of me!
Talk a bit about your own family.
I am happily married to a beautiful woman who became a doctor of pharmacy six years ago, after raising our three children. We have identical twins who will be graduating from the U of A this year. We also have a 16-year-old in high school. I am very blessed with the four women in my life.
What have your children taught you about being a dad?
My girls have taught me to relax. They say, “Daddy, you take your job too seriously.” They say, “Chill!” Everything we do in life is about them. It is not about trying to get the biggest house or the nicest car; you realize very quickly that that means nothing. It’s the family. And I treat my patients the same way that I would treat my own kids. It’s as simple as that.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint produces audio and video stories for RAISING ARIZONA KIDS and through her own company, Small Change Productions. Next month: Incoming AzAAP board president Dale Guthrie, M.D.