“I am blessed to have the family I have. Our four children are supportive and really an extension of Vicki and me,” said Dr. Fong.
But, what happens when physicians remove their white coats and go home to their families? Can they relax and enjoy the world outside medicine. Dr. Fong and his wife, Vicki, who is also his practice manager, share an understanding of the challenges of tending to both practice and family.
“We have three sons: Aiden, 12, Ashton, 8, Austin, 4, and a daughter, Amaya, 11,” Vicki said. “It’s a busy life, but a pretty structured one, apart from the travel we do. When we’re home, it’s fairly routine. Dr. Fong’s mother lives behind us, and at 83 is still active and healthy. She’s able to be in our home in the summer and during the year for Austin who comes home at 1:00 p.m. It’s huge having her support because it allows us both to be at the office during busy hours.”
Does the responsibility for the children fall on Vicki, as the mother, even though she works in the practice? “Not really,” she said. “Dr. Fong is very involved. He doesn’t get home until late but he gets up in the morning and helps get them to school and sometimes picks them up from karate. He also does a lot of housework. He sleeps only four or five hours. So, while he’s up looking at lab reports or other things, he will find whatever needs doing in the house. He’s really a great help.”
While I considered nominating Dr. Fong for sainthood, I learned a great deal more about this dedicated physician and family man.
Dr. Fong was raised in a household where education was a priority. His parents, originally from mainland China, owned a grocery store in Miami. Dr. Fong was in a gifted program at his school which bussed him to other schools with more advanced classes because he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a doctor. When he was 5 years old he had a routine immunization given by a physician. It was a moment of epiphany. Dr. Fong realized he wanted to be giving the injection, not getting it. He loved the thought of being a physician and all he could do for people.
Dr. Fong and Vicki met in rural Queensland, Australia. Their relationship was symbiotic from the get-go. Vicki worked for GlaxoSmithKline as a drug ‘rep’ but was also a nurse. Visiting the office of an Australian doctor, she found, instead, Dr. Fong, filling in for the vacationing doctor. As she waited, Dr. Fong walked past her, looking worried. He was carrying an EKG. She saw it and said: “It looks like your patient has atrial fibrillation.” Surprised at her knowledge, Dr. Fong told Vicki that he needed a specialist. She told him they were all fishing but gave him the name of a cardiologist who could treat his patient. That was the beginning of a fine romance. She also gave him some blue and orange pens which immediately pleased him as they were the colors of his university -The University of Florida - cementing their relationship. After a two year aerial courtship they were married and settled in Ponte Vedra.
The Fongs’ first baby was born a few days after they opened the practice. In the spirit of a true family practice, Vicki brought the baby to the office and went right to work. They had no staff except a friend to help them at the front desk. When the next two children came along, they, too, were in the office daily. One of them, three year old Aiden, absorbed valuable medical knowledge while there. He saw a patient his father had treated for a laceration and heard Dr. Fong tell him he would see him in 10 days to take the stitches out, and that he’d need antibiotics. Another week, a different patient came in with a laceration and Aiden studied him. The patient said to Aiden: ”What do you think?” Aidan said: “10 days, stitches out, antibiotics!”
Dr. Fong is in the office at 8:30 a.m. and not home until 9.00 p.m. I asked Vicki if he is able to relax once he’s home. “No. He’s always in touch with the office. Even on vacation. We purchased our own electronic medical record system when it was new in America so he is able to connect with the office, see the lab work, and test results. If we’re in Australia, there’s a 14 hour difference, so he’ll be on the computer at night. We look for a really good internet connection when we’re at hotels. Even though he has back up, he wants to direct his patients’ care himself. But still, it’s treating people from a distance, so he doesn’t feel right about being away more than a week at a time.”
The Fongs’ free time is spent traveling. From taking their young children to Australia they found out they could do it and survive. A list of the places they have been would take another column. From Paris to Beijing to Russia, Stockholm and Canada, and on Disney Cruises as well. “The children know they won’t be getting the newest electronic gadget but they’ll be taken around the world. They love it. They watch travel shows and get really excited,” Vicki said.
I asked Vicki if there was something she wanted to say about her husband, as a physician or just a human. “He’s very dedicated to the point of irritation. I can’t tell you the number of times he’s come into the room at 2 in the morning and said: ‘I just looked at the lab slip and such and such has got…’ I hear him on the phone being a real advocate for his patients, arguing with other doctors not to put his patient in hospice… that he wants to make that decision with his patient. He never throws up his arms and lets others deal with a problem. He gets on the phone if he feels a patient isn’t getting proper treatment. In one instance he contacted the wife of his patient who was hospitalized and told her to ask for a second opinion. The result of that opinion was an immediate trip to the operating room that probably saved his patient’s life.”
I end with my original thought: that we elders need to feel we will be well taken care of by our physicians. I think Dr. Fong’s patients will know now, if never before, how he cares about them…even after hours. As they say in the Allstate commercial: “Are you in good hands?” I say, “yes…with Dr. Fong!”
I leave you with this:
“I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.” — Henny Youngman.