Today, as I write this tribute to Dr. Milan Brandon, it has been exactly 60 years since I first went to his office on Fourth Avenue in an old Victorian house that still stands.
I was 11 years old and had already been struggling with childhood asthma for many years. The first thing I noticed was his smile. A warm, genuine and kind smile. It is hard to believe how time flies. He was 34 years old then and I am now 71.
Except for a brief interlude when I lived in San Francisco, he was my doctor until he retired. When we first met, asthma had been treated primarily with oxygen. I had a bottle at the nurse’s station at school in case I had an attack. During our 60 year journey together, he led the way with advancements in treatment until I now have an inhaler that stops the occasional attack in minutes. Like his son, Dr. Don, Dr. Milan was always reading up on the latest medical developments and involved in clinical trials of new medications.
I doubt that I would be alive today if he had not come into my life. Every time I needed him, he was there for me. If needed, he would re-arrange his schedule so that I could get in right away. Whether it was asthma or something else, he always diagnosed the problem correctly and the relief was always miraculously immediate. Words cannot describe the feeling of relief knowing he was there and knowing if I needed help, he would know what to do.
Dr Milan also became my mom’s doctor, especially in her later years. Again, were it not for his care, she never would have made it to 101, let alone had a high quality of life until somewhere around 99.
As he grew older, I kept thinking “one of these days I am going to come into the office and he will be gone.” The desk that was always piled high with charts and medical journals will be barren, his old desk chair empty and the lights off. I thought that throughout his seventies and eighties and it never happened. I then began to wonder if he was going to outlive me. When father time finally nudged him into retirement and the building on Olive Street was sold, I urged his son, Dr Don Brandon, to remove his classic aluminum sign that had been on the Third Avenue side of the building for over 50 years in near perfect condition as a gentle reminder of what he had meant to all of us: his patients, his staff and his family. It now hangs proudly in Dr. Don’s office.
In today’s world, many doctors are highly trained but also frustrated by the financial side of the practice, particularly the inadequate level of government reimbursement for Medicare patients and don’t feel that they are fairly compensated for their work after years of schooling and sacrifice. In contrast, Dr. Milan had no hesitation in helping anyone: those well off and those whose only lifeline was through government reimbursement. I would wager that a very high percentage of his patients were on some form of assistance, but you would never know from the treatment they received from him and his staff of wonderful ladies. While some doctors probably obsess about whether they can afford the latest Mercedes or BMW, Dr. Milan always under-charged his patients (even the ones who could afford to pay) and loved his Mercury station wagons, which he routinely kept until he wore them out. He lived in the same house with the same woman for over 50 years in Mission Hills. He never spent money on clothes or much of anything other than his children and his model train setup.
What needs to be added and emphasized was his love for his wife Mary (a true saint), and his children and grandchildren. He was a humble man and never talked about himself, but I cannot remember a time when I visited him in the office when he did not talk about what his kids and grandkids were doing and how proud he was of them. Having Dr. Don join him in the practice was a high point of his life, and losing Mark at such a relatively young age was clearly a low point. He would surely say if asked that his greatest gift was Mary because all good things came from their marriage. The love they had for each other was so strong and so obvious when you were with them that just the looks they gave each other said it all.
The days and months and years since Mary’s death clearly weighed on him but he was a trooper and carried on without her. The last time I saw him at Nazareth House with Dr Don, when we brought sandwiches and sat with him on his porch, he still had the smile and that positive attitude that I loved seeing.
Nothing I can ever say or do will ever repay the debt of gratitude I owe him for what he did for me. He will live in my heart and my memories until I too am gone.