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Hard to believe, but the doctor is finally out

By Craig Westcott | July 8, 2021

When Fred Jardine was 18, he had a summer job as a rodman at Churchill Falls.

He got it through his father. William T. Jardine was 69 when the Bell Island mines closed. Five of his seven children were still in high school.

“So, Dad went to work as the safety supervisor in Churchill Falls in the base camp,” Jardine recalls. I went around chopping down trees and holding up rods up all summer. That’s what you did…. It was a great experience.”

It was the year Premier Joey Smallwood visited to make a famous speech. Jardine had spent the morning setting up tents and tables for the dignitaries. As Joey laced into the microphone, Jardine found himself standing right next to the premier. “All I had to do was poke him and he would have gone over Churchill Falls,” Jardine says, laughing.

There’s been a lot of laughter in Jardine’s life, often with patients in the examining room of Summerhill Medical Clinic where last week the doctor retired from fulltime practice after 38 years.

Like his dad, Dr. Jardine has proven to be unafraid of hard work, or of charting an unexpected course.

Jardine’s father was 32 when he signed up to go overseas to fight Hitler. That made him one of the oldest recruits in the 166th Newfoundland artillery regiment that saw action in North Africa and Italy. He was 38 when he came home and married his sweetheart Bridget. They had seven children in eight years. Dr. Jardine – named after his grandfather Frederick Francis Jardine – came along in 1948. “I was born a Newfoundlander,” says the doctor. “I use that every now and then. It keeps the dogs at bay.”

Like his dad, Fred Jardine would so something unexpected when, at age 27, he gave up teaching science – turning down a job at Holy Spirit in Manuels – to go back to university to become a doctor.

“I loved teaching. I was good at teaching,” says Jardine.

But something was missing.

After high school, Jardine had gone to Memorial University and did a Bachelor of Science in biology. “I never took biology in high school, so it was kind of new to me. I was thinking about dentistry at the time, but as time went by, I kind of lost interest in it. And then I took a course in how to teach… And then I applied for a job to teach science in Mount Carmel.”

Jardine nailed the interview with Fr. Edward Purcell – it was the local priest who hired teachers in many of the Roman Catholic schools in those days – and taught at Mount Carmel for one year.

When his girlfriend Rosalind, who had been teaching at the Seal Cove campus of the trades college, got a job at the campus in Marystown, Jardine tagged along and got a job teaching in Marystown as well.

“And that was my second year teaching. The third year I came back to Mount Carmel and I my wife and I were married that year. I left Mount Carmel after that and came in and worked in St. John’s for two years at Holy Heart.”
The couple settled in Conception Bay South, because Roz was still teaching secretarial science at Seal Cove. They were 24 and found a place to live on Tobin’s Road.

“We rented a house there for 10 years,” says Jardine.

Then he lost interest in being a teacher.

“It wasn’t easy, “Jardine admits. “I just didn’t want to continue teaching. I guess I was one of those lost souls. I sold life insurance for a year and worked with a public relations company for a while. And then I got this urge to do medicine. I was 27 years old then.”
So Jardine went back to university, studying for a masters in biochemistry as a prerequisite to medicine. By now, the couple had a daughter Melanie. While he worked toward his second degree, Jardine took jobs as a substitute teacher, going to MUN after teaching classes of his own. “You had to feed the family,” he says.

His research, meanwhile, was a little different.

“I used to work with the mosquitos and one of the professors used to get mad because he saw all these mosquitos around the biology department, and of course part of them were mine,” says Jardine, laughing at the memory. “I was dealing with pheromones to see if we could control the insect population. And the mosquito eggs would hatch out – and you would almost have to be there (to appreciate it).”

At 29, the year his son David was born, Jardine was accepted into medical school.  

“I always wanted to do family medicine,” he says. “So, after I graduated from medical school I did the residency program and the last part of the residency program you had to go out for four months and I went out to Port aux Basques. It was a lovely spot, a brand new hospital and they wanted me to come to work there (permanently). Ros said ‘No. You can come here, but I’m going back to Seal Cove to work.’ So, she kind of directed us then and we went to Seal Cove.”

It was a fortuitous decision – both for the Jardines and the thousands of people the doctor cared for afterwards.

“(Dr.) Barry Fraser up in Kelligrews Medical Clinic offered me a job in Kelligrews,” says Jardine. “They wanted another doctor.”

Jardine joined a group of well-known physicians. Along with Fraser, there were doctors David McCutheon, John Hardy, Ron Carrigan, and Dale Garber. Dr. Wayne O’Brien came on later.

Jardine worked at the Kelligrews Clinic about three years.

“I really believe that Kelligrews Medical Clinic did yeoman’s service in Conception Bay South,” says Jardine. “When you worked the weekend (shift) you started Friday night and when the last patient was seen on Friday night you went home and started 9′ o’clock on Saturday morning. And when the last patient was seen on Saturday night you went home and you started 9 o’clock Sunday morning, and then you went home when you saw the last patient. We saw people from everywhere. Accidents and anything that happened would always come to the clinic first. I mean, you were sewing up people with axe injuries, chainsaw injuries, broken legs – it was forever, you were always doing it. Friday afternoon would always be the time when there would be a heart attack or someone would come in with a terrible laceration or some type of trauma and you’d fix them up.”

While Jardine was at Kelligrews, the doctors decided to open a satellite clinic in Topsail, across from the soccer field. It was around the time the Manuels Access Road opened, which kind of bifurcated the town.

“We wanted to make sure that our patients were protected,” says Jardine. “We would all rotate down there. Nobody really spent more time down there (than in Kelligrews), but I did. I spent more time (there) than all the other doctors.”

Then Dr. McCutcheon, whom Jardine describes as one of the smartest doctors around, took an appointment as the medical director of St. Clare’s Hospital. McCutcheon had earned the gold medal in the masters program of hospital administration, a degree he earned while still working full time as a doctor. 

“So that left all of us trying to figure out what we were going to do and what to do with Dave’s practice, because Dave McCutcheon had a big practice,” Jardine remembers. “A lot of the other doctors just lost interest in going down to Topsail, but I didn’t. So, what I did was move my practice down to Topsail.”

That was the start of Summerhill as an independent medical clinic. The first day on his own, Jardine saw three patients. “I did really good the second day – I saw three again,” he says.

But it wasn’t long before it became inundated with patients. After about two years on his own, Dr. Jacqueline Verge joined the clinic.

Just like at Kelligrews, Jardine worked six days a week, including two nights a week, delivered babies and worked in the emergency department. Every evening he would make sure his gas tank was topped up in case he had to go out again.

“After the clinic closed, we would do calls. You would be working in the clinic up until 10 o’clock at night,” he says. “I can remember sewing people up on their kitchen tables. That was what you did… We were running around Conception Bay South day and night.”

Eventually, that part of it changed.

“Now they don’t stop at the clinic, they go into the hospital,” says Jardine. “You’re talking about a 20-minute ride into the Health Sciences Centre.”

Jardine says he was able to work all those hours because of his wife, Roz.

“I had a good family,” says Jardine. “Roz was a real good worker. She also was a teacher, so after 3 o’clock in the afternoon she was able to come home and her summers were off, so it was a lot easier and better then. The problem with medicine is that most people are married to their wives and husbands, and they go to work to the job. But in medicine, you’re married to medicine and the job is taking take care of your family. And oftentimes in medicine the family really takes second place. That’s the way it is.”

When Shoppers Drug Mart built Villa Nova Plaza, it wanted a medical clinic on site. The company asked Jardine if he would Summerhill to Manuels.

“That’s what brought us here to Villa Nova Plaza,” he says.

At Manuels, the clinic kept growing along with the town.

“We have patients from St. John’s to Trepassey to Bay Roberts,” says Jardine. “The other side of it is, it’s very difficult now for people to find a family doctor. I am really, really, really blessed in that all of the other physicians in the clinic have agreed to take on my patients.”

Jardine is not sure how many patients he had. At the peak of his career, he was serving as many as 3,300 people. “We had 10,000 patient charts here when there were four of us,” he says. “There were times when you were doing as many as 10,000 office visits a year.”

For a long part of his life, while he was helping patients at work, he was also dealing with a very personal medical situation at home. Like many women whom he would see in his practice, Jardine’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“From the time Ros developed the breast cancer to the time she died of the breast cancer it was 15 years,” Jardine says. “She fought and whatever complication you want to have, she had it. She really was a soldier. At the same time, Ros was also an entrepreneur. She left Seal Cove (when the trades schools were retrenched during the Clyde Wells era) after 23 years and then she started a company called Futures Plus where she trained fisher people. Then she started a sweater company called Stitches in Salmonier. She was (operating) in the convent in Mount Carmel. That’s where they used to make the sweaters. She went and actually bought the building from the archdiocese and turned it into Salmonier Country Manor.”

In 1997, Roz renovated the manor, and opened it in 1998. “And that was the year she was diagnosed. She had put her heart and soul and lots of money into it.”

It was tough, Jardine admits. “Roz was so independent and just wanted to live. She loved her grandchildren and loved her work and did whatever she wanted to do and then this breast cancer kind of restricted her… It really was a miserable 15 years of knowing what the final end was going to be and not being able to do anything about it.”

After 41 years together, Rosalind died December 30, 2013.

Jardine dealt with the stress of managing a busy practice and the challenges of family life by running, something he still does.

“I’ve always found that my out was running,” says Jardine. “I figured it out the other day that I’ve been running now for around 50 years, and the circumference of the Earth is 40,075 kms. I think in the last 50 years I’ve ran around the Earth 2.4 times. I can remember for instance, you’d go to a delivery (of a baby) and you’d get home 5:30 in the morning or quarter to 6. It’s too late to go to bed, too early to get up – your wife and children would be in bed. So, you’d put on running shoes and you’d go for a run. I mean, that was common. I think that’s why a lot of doctors run. You need to exercise and you can’t run in a group. As a result, running was my out. That was a great exercise and stress reliever. I always found about running that when you went out with a problem on your mind you came back with a solution. It was great.”

Jardine says his biggest self-criticism is that his waiting times were long. “People will say, ‘I waited two hours to see you – now I have 12 things to talk about,'” he says, smiling. “I have a hard time when doctors say they will take care of (only) one issue per visit… I think it’s wrong to do that to a patient. I’ve had four generations of people in my practice. I have people now whose grandfathers and grandmothers were patients of mine… It’s humbling.” 

Jardine may have been known for having long wait times, but his patients will tell you that was because once you were in the examining room he took the time to help you, carefully explaining his diagnosis and advice and usually offering a quip or joke to lighten your load.

“I think when you explain things to patients, they really appreciate it. That’s the whole thing about family medicine, there’s a connection between a doctor and a patient,” Jardine says.

“It is funny, some of the stuff that you do. One guy we had to do his rectal exam and I said, ‘Okay, get up and lie down and turn.’ And he turned towards me. And I said, ‘I don’t want to look at your face when I’m doing this.’ But you say things like that to people and I can honestly say that we’ve had more jokes and more laughs coming out of the clinic… And some of the patients will come in and I’ll know they’ve got a story, or a joke… But there’s been sad times too, especially when you have a young person who is afflicted with a cancer and you really can’t do anything. I mean, that’s really sad. Or you have people who have so much love and respect and affection for their partners and to have them die, it’s heartrending. But life and the human spirit is resilient. For the most part, people get over it.”

Jardine says he’ll miss those interactions. “But at 72, it’s time. I have a lot of good memories. I’ve had a lot of happiness. I think I’ve spent too much time in the clinic, but it’s what you do. And after a while you know it’s time to leave… You come and you spend your time and then you have to give it off to the young doctors and just move aside. The last thing you really want to do is to make a mistake and someone say, ‘He was too old for it.'”

Jardine says he knew a doctor who after he saw his last patient, wrote up his chart, put his head on his desk and died. “I don’t know if I want to be like that, I don’t want to die here in this chair,” he says, laughing.

Some of Jardine’s adult patients still remember, with a grin, when he found bunny rabbits in their ears during their first visits as children. He has been humbled by all the retirement cards and well wishes.

“Even if you take a splinter out of a child’s foot, you get great satisfaction,” Jardine says.  “It always was fun…. Many of my patients, I’ve seen them grow old. I really have. And now I guess I’m in the spot where people are seeing me grow old. I’ve been reading the cards and it’s really humbling to think that these patients have thought that much of you. I was talking to a man a little while ago and he said, ‘You know, you’ve been my doctor for 32 years and I really mean you’ve been my doctor. I’ve never seen another physician in 32 years but you.’ I think that’s a reward in itself.”

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