Beloved Lindsay GP retires practice

By Carolyn Barbre

If Dr. Thomas Matthews' bedside manner is anything like his retirement party manners, it is no secret why he is so beloved by his 2,500-3,000 patients.

More than 70 of them had signed the guest book in the first hour of the four-hour celebration on Friday, Nov. 28, an extraordinary compliment in that it was in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday.

And each of those 70 was personally introduced by the good doctor to his wife, Gloria, granddaughter Emma, 7, and grandson Colin, three-and-a-half. Matthews, 66, was giving up his practice after 34 years as a family practitioner in Lindsay but not really retiring. He has taken a job at the Porterville Developmental Center.

Tilly Avila, who worked 47 years at Lindsay Hospital, where she started part time while still in high school, said she worked with him in surgery at the hospital. "Everybody will miss him," she said.

In spite of delivering at least a couple of generations into the world, Dr. Matthews said he sometimes felt like a newcomer. "We've only been here 34 years, when some people have lived here for generations," he said. The Matthews were originally from the Northwest, he from Washington and Gloria from Oregon. Dr. Matthews took his surgical residency in Bakersfield at Kern Medical Center. On several occasions the couple came to Lindsay where they visited with Dr. Norman who was an Ob/Gyn specialist and practicing surgeon. Dr. Norman was in attendance at the retirement party.

Matthews said they liked the town and in 1969 decided to "come and settle here." He said there were a lot more businesses in Lindsay back then including three separate new car dealerships and a number of clothing stores. "You really didn't have to go out of town to buy anything you needed," he recalled.

Matthews also recalled the history of the Lindsay Hospital which he said actually opened about 1935 as a city hospital. He said eventually it changed to a district hospital to get a larger tax base. He knew that once it ceased operating as a hospital, the building reverted to city ownership, and that it cannot be operated as a hospital at this time because it is not up to code. When Sierra View took over Lindsay Hospital Dr. Thomas said, "I was very sad about it."

Matthews is board certified as a family practitioner. "There are very few of them," he said. Matthews said in the old days he would have been called a general practitioner. "Family practice is different [from other medical designations]. Certification is only good for seven years, then you must recertify." Matthews said he was recertified this past summer, his fourth recertification. A big part of his practice was delivering babies judging from seven boards of baby photos around the office on Sequoia Avenue.

As for surgeries, Matthews said he did gallbladder operations and appendectomies, "kind of like an old time, small town, country doctor." He said there were no big time surgeons in Lindsay, but two or three would come from surrounding towns for more difficult problems. He said Dr. Carlton, doctors J.C. and C.M. McClure "were really stalwart doctors here. They did everything. And he was very appreciative that Dr. Norman was available for consultation.

Matthews watched as other hospitals faded from the scene including Exeter, Dinuba and Visalia Community hospital, watched as health care became more centralized, and, some might say, less efficient.

"We actually operated a very efficient hospital," he said about Lindsay. He gave the example of a patient coming in for a mammogram. He said the radiologist would look at the x-ray and tell the technician if more information was needed. "They would tell the patient if it was OK or not OK. Now the patient goes for a mammogram and leaves. The report comes back to me. If it says we need another view, then the patient becomes very apprehensive." You could tell he suffered for the patient's discomfort, particularly knowing that it didn't have to be that way. Matthews also said surgeries began on time.

"Dr. Norman did a lot of gynecological surgeries. If the surgery was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. He would be in the operating room at 7:25." He said that is rarely the case at "centralized" hospitals.

Teresa Serna, who worked many years in the Lindsay Hospital nursery recalled that Matthews as "always very gentle and never in a hurry," when attending to newborns. She also observed that Matthews "treated everybody the same and paid full attention to the patient he was with." Serna said she felt very fortunate to work with the doctor and to also be one of his patients. "He always took very good care of me, or would send me to someone who could," she said.

Dena Shropshire, who worked eight years in Matthews' office as a medical records transcriptionist, was about in tears at the doctor's leaving. She counted him as much more than an employer, also as a long time family friend. "He goes beyond just being a doctor," she said. "He takes care of the whole patient, not just the office patient." Shropshire said Matthews made house calls when her husband was suffering with cancer. "There is no other doctor like him," she said.

The many attendees at the reception agreed. In the guest book where it was indicated that people should put their signatures and addresses, many had instead put their signatures and a comment. "It has been such an honor to know you. Thank you for all your kindness," signed Harold Israel. Thanks for birthing me 18 years ago," Erin Beebe wrote. Christine Beebe wrote, "You are well loved and respected. God bless you greatly!"

Doting grandparents, the Matthews visit their grandchildren in Orange County monthly. But that is not enough to keep this beloved physician busy. Although his office will shut down complete by the end of December, he has already taken a job at the Porterville Developmental Center. Asked why he just didn't retire, he said, "I just have too much energy and ambition. I have to do something."

Matthews went back to greeting the many friends and former patients who continued to pour in.

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