Remembering Dr. Schlenhoff

It’s a tough world; one takes comfort where it lies. For me, mental hugs are found in reminiscence, recalling childhood memories and remembering people who were nice to me.

The exercise isn’t hard to do: It isn’t difficult to imagine the faces of kind Mr. and Mrs. Turner, the older couple who lived below the apartment in which my family lived in 1960s Baltimore. Or to catch some trace of the aroma of Sister Francisanne’s simmering Italian meatballs in the kitchen at St. Ambrose’s. Or the sweet sports-nut doctor Mom found for us when we moved to small-town Reisterstown, MD, in 1973; to this day I haven’t had a doctor who listened to me the way he did.

You don’t forget those people. Thank goodness I haven’t forgotten the way they made me feel about the world around me and about myself.

One of the sad things in life is that a lot of these important presences are transient. They come, they go, and often, you never know what became of them. To the best of my knowledge, Sister Francisanne is still making meatballs and warming hearts, but the last time I received concrete info was five years ago, when my father died. I have no idea what became of Mr. Turner. The most recent news given to me — about 20 years ago or so — was that Mrs. Turner had passed away, may she rest in peace. And she deserves peace: That woman was so patient and generous with us rowdy kids back in the day. 

My family-practice doctor, Dr. Milton Schlenhoff, was the best physician I ever had. I’ve always struggled with respiratory problems, so he was a major presence for me as my doctor until I turned 18, and my folks could not have put me in better hands. Dr. Schlenhoff gave us all the time we needed, answered every question we had, and treated us like we were intelligent people. My well-being, and that of each of his patients, mattered to him. I don’t get that same feeling from medical professionals much today. Absolutely there are exceptions, and thank the goddess for the ones who have blessed me, but they don’t make ’em anymore like Milton Schlenhoff.

He was cute and funny too. I recall him becoming an enthusiastic booster for running — he was buzzing adorably about competing in 50-and-up track events. I swam and played baseball, but my interests ran toward the literary pursuits. Then I came down with a wicked case of  mononucleosis. It took me months to recover fully and the illness kept me from auditions for the school play. Dr. S. had a talk with my mother, and boom — I had a running regimen, including a spot on my high school winter track team. I never amounted to much as a runner (before semester’s end I was stage manager for the play), but my good health did return. 

When I usually think about Dr. Schlenhoff, the question always comes: I wonder where he is now and if he’s okay. Not today. Obviously, other people found him notable too — he rated an obituary in the Baltimore Sun

Dr. Milton Schlenhoff, a retired family practitioner, internist and physical fitness advocate, died Sunday at Sinai Hospital of complications from diabetes. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 81. … He was a superb athlete in school, excelling in basketball and track, and setting a state record in the 220-yard dash as a high school senior,” said his son, Dr. Marc D. Schlenhoff of Rockaway, N.J. … “When he came out of the Navy, he wanted to be a doctor, and became a damn good one. He was an amazing diagnostician who would spend an inordinate amount of time with his patients and also continued making house calls,” he said.

… He established a practice in Woodlawn before moving in 1970 to the Reisterstown Shopping Center, across from Franklin High School. “Milton was … a cross between Dr. Kildare, the Karate Kid, Jesse Owens and Jack London,” said Joe Kaufman, who first became acquainted with Dr. Schlenhoff when they were teenage counselors at Camp Dorman in Reisterstown. … Herb Sweren, former owner of Lexaco Appliances on Paca Street, was a friend and patient for more than 60 years.

“Milton took care of my parents and my wife’s parents. He was always there, day or night, and even on weekends,” Mr. Sweren said. “He was a terrific physician, and if he didn’t know something, he did the research until he came up with an answer.”

In the final years of his career before his 1985 retirement, Dr. Schlenhoff also practiced sports medicine.

… [His] philanthropic interests included Associated Jewish Charities, United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish National Fund. He was a member of Beth El Congregation.

Finding this was a crummy way to start my morning, but I am happy to have a question answered and to know that his life contributed a great deal to this world. Of course, that’s old news, isn’t it?

Godspeed to Dr. Schlenhoff. I hope he knows there is a lot of love and gratitude traveling out there for him.


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