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After 60 years, Dr. Weeks takes time to 'read, rest, relax, reminisce and reorganize'

Recently retired Hagerstown general practitioner estimates he delivered more than 3,000 babies

April 28, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Dr. Howard N. Weeks Sr., 86, officially retired March 1 after a 60-year career as a family practitioner.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Gone are the days of medical house calls and family physicians who deliver babies, just some of the changes in health care that Dr. Howard N. Weeks Sr. has seen in his 60-year career as a family practitioner.

“We were called general practitioners back then. Everything from the cradle to the grave,” said Weeks, 86, who officially retired March 1.

“Sixty years, that’s about enough. I thought 50 would be a good cutoff. If my wife had lived, I might have retired earlier,” Weeks said.

As a general practitioner, Weeks estimated he delivered more than 3,000 babies until 1983, the last of the family practitioners in the county to stop doing so, he said. Doctors also administered anesthesia back then, which Weeks did for the first half of his career.

“I enjoyed delivering babies. It was so gratifying to see the infant, having taken care of the mother for pregnancy. The bad part was if the delivery didn’t happen at night, it interrupted office hours,” Weeks said.

Weeks helped cover the emergency room at Washington County Hospital in the days before there were ER doctors.

He and Dr. Edward W. Ditto III partnered as medical examiners for 51 years, and were called out to accidental or suspicious deaths. That responsibility now falls to forensic investigators. 

When Weeks first started in practice, there were 50 to 60 doctors in Hagerstown. He said there are now 400 to 500 doctors.

“Nowadays — and I don’t blame them — doctors spend more time with their families. They don’t have evening and Saturday office hours. When I was on call, I would see patients Sunday night. Everything is computerized. It’s an entirely different ballgame,” Weeks said.

When he was a new doctor in town, some of the older doctors made house calls on the weekends. Weeks said doctors built up practices back then by covering for established doctors.

He was paid $3 for office calls and $5 for house calls. Weeks said he still made an occasional house call to bedridden patients to save them the ambulance ride to the office.

Retirement came with mixed emotions.

“I told the girls in the office when I saw my retirement notice — ‘I saw my obituary in the paper,’” Weeks said.

Seven years ago, Dr. Shahid Mahmood joined the practice. The office that Weeks has occupied on Northern Avenue since it was built in the early 1960s was not big enough for two full-time doctors, so they split the schedule.

Weeks, who lived across the street from the office, went to a part-time schedule four or five years ago. With Mahmood’s decision to move the office to Opal Court, which is closer to Meritus Medical Center and his home, Weeks thought the time was right to retire.

‘The next and final chapter’

He practices what he preaches for good health and stays active, exercising at a gym at least three times a week and walking outside on the other days. Weeks used to ski, ice skate and play tennis.

“I like to read, rest, relax, reminisce and reorganize,” he said. “It’s a fun thing to look forward to the next and final chapter in life.”  

Weeks and his wife, Rae Beer, met through a friend while he was in medical school and were married in 1955.

They have three children, Ranelle Flurie of Hagerstown, Howard “Howie” N. Weeks Jr. of Funkstown and Roxanne Strickland of Rockledge, Fla., as well as two grandchildren.

The family moved into their Fountainhead Road home in 1957 and added on to it over the years.

“This is my castle. I enjoy it, so I’m going to stay here,” Weeks said.

The Weekses traveled across the United States to medical conventions, with New Orleans, Boston and San Francisco being their favorite destinations. Both were licensed pilots for a short period.

Rae died in 1990 of cancer.

Dr. Weeks continued to travel and plans to do so in retirement. One of his most memorable trips was to New Zealand 11 years ago, when he went bungee jumping.

“I’m probably more noted for that than anything else in medicine,” Weeks joked.

Looking back

Weeks was born in 1926 in Martinsburg, W.Va., and the family, including a sister who was three years younger, lived there until his father, who worked as a salesman for an ice cream company, was transferred to Frederick, Md., then to Hagerstown in the 1930s.

His sister is a retired nurse and lives in a Philadelphia retirement home.

Weeks’ mother died when he was 4 and his father remarried 10 years later. His younger stepbrother lives in Las Vegas.

Weeks attended Wayside School, Broadway School and graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1944. He received his bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and is a 1952 graduate of the University of Maryland Medical School.

His interest in medicine began in his childhood.

“I was a sickly kid. They didn’t expect me to live a couple of times. They didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Weeks said.

There were no antibiotics in the 1920s to treat his fevers, and he went to the doctor often.

“I just liked science and people. That was the story there,” Weeks said.

Work has been a constant in the doctor’s life. He remembers going door-to-door selling jars of salve for 25 cents, working at A&P, on an ice truck and at Schindel’s Drugstore.

“In those days, you could work your way through college with the pay from a summer job,” Weeks said. 

Weeks started his practice in December 1953 and his first two offices were on North Potomac Street, with his stepmother as his first secretary. It was truly a “family” practice over the years, with many family members working there.

Rae worked as a secretary, and both daughters helped during their high school years. After Rae’s death, her twin sister, Lou Whittington, who lives in Salisbury, Md., helped with the banking and paying the bills, while Ranelle’s husband, Michael Flurie, did the accounting.

One of his nurses and two secretaries worked for him for more than 30 years each.

“I’ve had very little turnover. If you treat your patients and employees well, they stay with you,” Weeks said.

Office memorabilia, photographs of hospital staff and Charlie, the plastic skeleton that could be seen in his office for about 50 years, were moved to Weeks’ garage. Charlie suffered a few broken ribs in the move.

Weeks is a longtime member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown and the Hagerstown Exchange Club, and joined Longmeadow Rotary more than a decade ago. He plays bridge and “poker with the guys” once a month.

As for what he’ll miss most about practicing medicine, Weeks said it’s the relationships with people.

“Not seeing the people I have seen on a regular basis and the stories they have, not so much the medical problems, but the social things,” Weeks said.

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