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Acts of compassion

Dr. Arch Logan, medical director at the House of Charity in Spokane, hopes newly retired doctors will volunteer at the shelter’s clinic.  (Colin Mulvany)
Dr. Arch Logan, medical director at the House of Charity in Spokane, hopes newly retired doctors will volunteer at the shelter’s clinic. (Colin Mulvany)

For Dr. Arch Logan, helping others in a time of need has been much more than a job

Dr. Arch Logan is the medical director at the House of Charity’s clinic in downtown Spokane.

He volunteers four to five days a week at the shelter, where homeless and low-income folks share meals, seek refuge from the elements and find medical care at the clinic.

A handful of doctors already volunteer there, but he could use some more.

Logan, a humble man, finally agreed to do this Wise Words interview so he can make the pitch for doctors for the clinic, which is sponsored by Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

He balked at only one question: His exact age.

Logan will concede to being in his “early 90s.” He’s in great shape physically and mentally, but he says he’s aware of an older-age prejudice in our society, and he intends to continue his doctor duties at the clinic.

In the interview, he talked about what he’s learned at the House of Charity, lessons awaiting other doctor-volunteers. Here’s an excerpt:

• I was born and raised in Rochester, Minn. My dad was a physician at the Mayo Clinic. I grew up in the Depression years. My dad had a job so we did not suffer, but my family, my mother particularly, was very giving, always taking food to people. So giving became an early part of my life and stuck with me.

• I remember during the Depression I got to the age where all my friends were out getting jobs. And my dad said, “No, you can’t. We have enough. Leave (the jobs) for the others who need it.”

• In World War II, I was in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Alaska. I was headed to the South Pacific, and at the last minute they changed it.

What did my generation learn from the war years? Gas was rationed. Food was rationed. We were much more frugal as a result and remained so through our lives. You learn that there are limits to what you can buy, what you can spend.

We kept budgets. I don’t know if that’s very popular these days. Maybe it is, but I don’t hear about it.

• I came to Spokane in 1950. I was looking for a small clinic that was sort of patterned on the Mayo Clinic. Rockwood Clinic was just being set up.

I was the seventh doctor there. We had a good bunch of doctors, all of them dedicated to doing the best job they could. It was a wonderful experience to practice with them.

• House calls? They were a big part of my life. We had a full day of seeing patients at the clinic. We’d make rounds in the morning and afternoon at the hospitals, and then we’d make house calls in the evening.

My kids would go with me on some of those. They wanted to go, because I didn’t see them all day. The little ones would be content to sit out in the car for a half hour or so. It was safe then. I don’t even remember locking the car.

One guy would always call in the middle of the night and say said he needed a pain shot because he was in so much misery. I’d get out of bed and go over there.

Why did we do house calls? People expected it. It was an act of compassion. They called. They needed help. And you aren’t about to turn over and go back to sleep. You do your duty. It was just part of the practice of medicine back then.

• The (House of Charity) clinic was started in the 1970s by Sister Peter Claver, a wonderful lady. Dr. Sam Shikany, a family practitioner in town, ran the clinic. He kept asking me to try it, so finally in 1990, I said, “OK, I’ll try it.”

I had retired in 1985. So when Sam asked, I thought, “This will keep me involved in medicine.” I worked with him one day, saw a few people and he said, “That’s it, you can take over.”

• There are missionaries in my family. My first cousin and his dad and another cousin were medical missionaries through the Presbyterian Church.

I had always wanted to go over and join one of my first cousins in missionary work in Lahore, Pakistan. When this came along, I thought, “Well it’s a poor substitute, but it’s sort of like that.”

• Did having this to come to as a widower help me? It was a godsend. It gave me somewhere to go and something to do that I enjoyed. It filled the hours. And that was extremely important in those early days. Not that it isn’t now.

• Had I had much exposure to homeless people? No. I’d see them on the street, they’d beg, and I’d turn them down and not think about it very much. I soon learned they are the same as the rest of us, except for their bad experiences that brought them here.

• They are survivors. I do not understand survival, to be honest with you. I don’t understand why some of these people prefer to sleep outside under the bridge.

I remember a man with the beginning of gangrene in his foot. I said, “You’ve got to come in and sleep.” He said, “No, I’ll never sleep inside again.” That’s the reason I don’t understand survival.

• Some of them are seemingly content with their life as it is. They are on disability, so they get a check every month. Others are homeless and fighting it like mad.

I’ve known several people trying to get into college, and some of them did. I’ve known well-to-do businesspeople, and they have just gone down the hill because of drugs (and) alcohol.

• A lot of them tell me their stories. A lot of them were in the service. They are very open. Over the years I can’t remember asking a fairly personal question and not have them answer. Even about their jail time.

• Do they ask me questions? About my age. That’s the most common. I give them a vague answer, of course. I tell them: “I’m getting there.”

• Is there a common denominator in all their stories? Abuse in childhood. Mental illness. Their addictions started out with things like meth, which is still around, but then it was prescription drugs.

A year or more ago, we had to stop using or prescribing any kind of narcotic, even the simplest codeine. We do have substitutes, but they aren’t that happy about them.

• What’s my pitch for doctors? Newly retired doctors would be best. If they have any interest in medicine and want to continue some involvement, this is an ideal way.

They have contact with patients. There is no night call, no weekend call, nothing obligatory, except to show up here once or twice a month for an afternoon.

The facilities are excellent. The pharmacy is well-stocked. And they have lots of nurses to help.

• What will doctors get out of volunteering? They will have contact with people they have rarely, or ever, had contact with in a patient-doctor relationship. You get to know they are real people with real problems.

If you just sit and listen to them, it’s therapeutic. Many times more so than the pills we give them. I come back to the word compassion. I think it’s an act of that.

• I just got relicensed. I have a license valid for the next two years. Whether I will personally last that long, I don’t know. But I’m not going anywhere, as long as I have my mind.