By Gail Griffith Behrns
It’s 1973. Passing the corner of 10th and Orange is the familiar white Ex Calibur with the bright red leather interior. The driver, wearing his familiar Irish driving cap, waves as he passes me.
Today he no longer drives an Ex Calibur but Dr. Donald Dill is probably one of Coronado’s most famous and beloved citizens, the Magical Medicine Man.
Dr. Dill began his family practice in 1960 joining Dr. Jim Mushovic in a small office in what today is part of the lobby of the El Cordova Hotel. Today on the wall in his office on C Avenue is a three-dimensional portrayal of him, complete with top hat magically performing medicine as depicted by his artist wife, Christine Gordon.While he never actually performed real magic as he made you better, he just made it feel that way. In addition to hospital rounds and office visits, Dr. Dill made house calls.
In February of 1988 he made one of those house calls to my parents’ home to explain to my sisters and me why my dad’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis was terminal. Despite my outward anger and frustration that little could be done for him and that he had little time left in this world, Dr. Dill remained calm and caring, nearly apologetic as he took the time to answer all of our questions and frustration.
Three years pass. It is September, 1992. My son, Riley is two weeks old and we are in the Jungle Room waiting for Dr. Dill to give Riley his two-week check-up. A copy of Love You Forever lay on the top of a stack of children’s books. As I read the story inside the cover I fight tears. My then-husband has decided that parenthood is not on his list of things in life he wants at that time and we are alone. Dr. Dill opens the door and cheerfully picks up my son, telling me what a beautiful boy he is and how we will be all right.Two months later he agrees to stand as Riley’s Godfather.
Against amazing odds, I remarry in 1996. Some twenty months later our son, Seth is born.Two weeks before his due date I think it is time. Dr. Dill, with his wry sense of humor laughs,”You think you are having a baby today!” The nurse and I look at the monitor and it seems something is happening.Three hours later Seth is born.When our youngest, Davis is born in 1999 two weeks before his due date, Dr. Dill is ready.
2005 — We move across the country to a small town-Kernersville, North Carolina and once again Riley is in the doctor’s office. Again I find myself fighting tears but this time it is because I realize that we have left the big city for the small town but have left the small-town doctor behind in the big city. Absent is the white coat with the red heart pin and the warm smile, the talk in the office after the checkup.The new doctor’s coat, while white in color, lacks the small red heart over the pocket and colorful dapper tie that we had been accustomed to over years.
We still live in Kernersville and have found an affable pediatrician. But he doesn’t wear a dapper tie and a heart over his coat pocket. And he never makes house calls.
In his fifty years of family practice Dr. Dill has delivered thousands of children. If he didn’t deliver you, he probably delivered your neighbor or their grandchildren. Dr. Dill still practices in his office on C Avenue and still makes hospital rounds. No matter how packed his appointment schedule, you always get a talk in his office after your checkup and a hug as you leave. If one day Dr. Dill chooses to retire, it will be the end of an era.The era of The Magical Medicine Man.