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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Dr. George Eufemio, oncologist extraordinaire

(Part one of four)

When orthopedic surgeon Dr. Edgar Michael “Gar” Eufemio started residency at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), his late father, the legendary surgical oncologist Dr. George Eufemio, asked him about his patients.

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“I’m obsessive-compulsive and I memorize everything about my patients,” says Gar, who dutifully recited: “Bed number 12 is the case of a [72-year-old female] with a femoral neck (hip) fracture.”

His father interrupted, asking if Gar knew the patient’s name. “I said yes, and that pissed him off. He asked why I did not start with her name, and then did a two-hour lecture on the importance of a patient’s name. To this day, I never refer to a patient by room number or diagnosis, always by their name. And it’s one of the first lessons I teach my students and fellows.”

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Gar’s elder brother Edwin works in education, and his younger brother Edson, in law. (Disclosure: Gar is my longtime friend, and he and his brothers did basic education in the boys’ school across the street from our girls’ academy. Dr. George was also a good friend of my late father Dr. William Lee, who admired the former’s work ethic, high standards, concern for people.)

Gar bills himself the classic middle son who “got into trouble” while growing up. He wanted to join the Philippine Basketball Association, but “Daddy told me I wasn’t that good, so it’s better to think of another career.”

“I loved seeing how appreciative Daddy’s patients were after he saved their lives,” says Gar, “how he always knew what to do, how he treated patients and everyone in the hospital in special ways, how calm he was when solving problems, how he gave patients hope. He loved taking care of the priests, nuns, nurses, residents, secretaries, security guards, janitors, employees.”

In 1976, when the young Dr. George was appointed department chair of UP-PGH surgery, he first met not with the surgical staff, but with the janitorial staff, to address the most basic need of all: sanitation.

“Everyone knows that infections can occur at any hospital,” Dr. George reminisced in his memoirs. “But what happens if the ones supposed to treat infections are the ones producing those infections? All you need is toilet paper. If every patient had a roll of toilet paper, the maintenance staff would not have to wage war on clogged toilets. Toilet paper does a better job than the funny pages or paper bags.”

But the budget for supplies was meager, and getting approval for toilet paper was a lengthy government process. So Dr. George required patients to bring their own roll. What about those in emergency situations—would they be denied admission just because they did not have a roll with them?

“That’s easy,” he told the doctors. “You go ahead and treat the patient. Afterwards, ask his relatives to bring toilet paper.”

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The hospital did not have enough medicines for all their patients; the quarterly budget for medicines was already used up in a week. So Dr. George instituted another move: “We asked those who could afford the medicine to buy it themselves, and we asked the rest to contribute what they could, to augment our budget. I wanted every patient to receive 100 percent of the medicines prescribed for them.”

Dr. George’s initiatives worked superbly for patients, and he expected the same of colleagues and staff. UP-PGH administrator Tessie Venturina, who joined the surgery department when Dr. George became chair, recalls he would not take a “no” for an answer whenever he asked her to contact doctors.

“You can’t just say that the doctor is not there,” says Venturina in his memoirs. “He’d tell you sternly, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ So you go back to the phone and try until doomsday to get the doctor for him.”

In search of perfection, Dr. George was also known by colleagues, friends and family for his colorful speech. “He often sounds harsh when he is talking, but he is compassionate,” says Venturina. “He really cares about his patients. You don’t always see that in other doctors.”

Next week: Following in daddy’s footsteps

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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