“This won’t hurt a bit, Brenda. I promise you that.”
My five-year-old self relaxed as I raised my left arm to receive my required prekindergarten immunizations. If Dr. Abel promised that it wouldn’t hurt, it wouldn’t.
“I’ll count to three, and then I’ll give you your shot. Ready? Count with me.”
I looked into his trustworthy, kind, and caring eyes, and said with him, in unison, “One…two…three!”
But as we simultaneously spoke the number “three,” he didn’t insert the needle into my arm; instead, he removed it! In spite of his fulfilled promise that it wouldn’t hurt a bit, I began to cry uncontrollably. When Dr. Abel and my mother, both surprised by my outburst, asked what was wrong, I spoke through broken sobs, “No…it didn’t…hurt. But…Dr. Abel…lied…to…me, and he’s not…supposed to…do that!”
With his tender words of apology and explanation, he renewed my faith in him, and with a small red lollipop, he silenced my tears!
A few years later I fell from the pinnacle of the highest slide on the school’s playground. Those in charge could get no response from me and covered me with a white sheet until my parents could arrive. Nearly fifty years later, my mother still recalls that as she and my father drove onto the school property, they saw Dr. Abel running to the playground from the town’s only medical clinic. Before my parents could reach me, they were comforted by the fact that Dr. Abel was already by my side, kneeling and assessing my condition. I don’t recall much about that fall, but I do remember that the first person I saw was Dr. Abel, which meant two things to my young mind: 1) I must have been hurt, and 2) I was going to be okay.
In between those two stories and many times thereafter, there were visits to Dr. Abel’s office brought on by earaches, sore throats, measles, and flu. But the visits to his office were not the ones I remember in those cases. It was the house call he made when I had an extreme case of chicken pox that stands out in my mind, even as I type this. He was there late in the evening, because he had been caring for so many others during the day that it was the only time he had available. But he came to our home as though there were no other options. And he cared. He always cared.
Perhaps that’s why he came back to our small town after finishing medical school. Because he cared—not about money, fame, or prestige. Those were not to be found in Wakarusa, Indiana, at the same level to which he could have found them in a larger city, where his work hours may have been less time-consuming and where his notoriety may have brought greater wealth.
When I was in my twenties—long after my family had relocated to another state—it struck me just how good I had it back in the small town that I had always considered my “hometown.” So I sat, then, as I do now, to write my thoughts of gratitude. I wrote a personal, handwritten note, thanking Dr. Abel for not only his care for those of us who lived in Wakarusa but also for his generosity of spirit that we experienced on a regular basis. I thanked him for his care through the years. I thanked him for opening his family’s private pool to the public a few days a week so that we could have a “public pool” in our diminutive community. I thanked him for quietly leading the youth of our town through his love for and support of the athletic programs. He brought in “outside” speakers such as Gale Sayers and other well-known sports figures to speak for the sports banquets at our local school; he served (seemingly) tirelessly to encourage other businesses in our town, and I wanted him to know that I was grateful for all of this. I expected nothing in return. I simply needed to share the gratitude that was in my heart.
To this day I weep when I recall the eight-page, double-sided, handwritten letter I received from Dr. Abel in response to mine. He told me of his own activities within the community, updated me on the current locations and vocations of his children, and in true Dr. Abel form, spent at least one of those pages asking about my family members—by name. It is quite possibly one of the dearest and most thoughtful letters I have ever received.
When my father passed away, Doc Abel was first in line at the visitation, tenderhearted and gracious—caring beyond the walls of his title or his office boundaries. And since that time, I have seen him care for my mother’s health with the same sincerity of concern and care that I recalled from my early years in that sweet, blessed small town.
So why use an entire blog post on a devotional site for women to remember a small-town doctor? Because, when I heard on Saturday of his passing from this earth, I was reminded that though he was as human and prone to do wrong as the rest of us, Dr. Abel used his gifts, talents, and abilities to help others. He gave; he served; he cared. In doing so, he taught multiple generations the joy and the importance of doing the same. This is the stuff that true heroes are made of.
In conversations with one another nearly fifty years ago now, my father and Dr. Abel, friends made so by their love for the people of this small Indiana town, spoke of their mutual faith in the one true and living God. They both now worship that God in heaven, face to face. So I close by simply stating that my prayer for the family and friends of Dr. Robert Abel, my hero, is that they will allow the joy of his gain to eclipse the sorrow of this true earthly loss.