Medical Public Health Women's Issues

Goodbye Obstetrics

I helped with the birth of my last baby here in Durango in November. He is a healthy boy who weighed just under seven pounds.

More than 35 years ago we chose Durango as the best place to raise our two sons. They are now both married and left town long ago. My wife, Gail, and I still enjoy living in La Plata County—it is our home.

Durango was not the most lucrative place to practice back then, and it still isn’t. My starting salary was just $2,000 a month, and often I worked eighty hours or more a week. The work is strenuous, but helping women and families achieve their reproductive goals has been very satisfying.

At age 68 most people are already looking forward to full retirement. I still have goals to achieve, and am happy to be healthy enough to continue working. But I do enjoy sleeping a lot!

Perhaps I should hold my former neighbor, Dick Edwards, responsible for some of my reluctance to retire. Shortly after moving in to our first home on Rio Vista Circle I met Dick on the sidewalk. He said that retirement is dangerous—that a lot of people get sick or die shortly after they quit working. Of course there may be an error in this thinking, since some people retire due to bad health.

About 15 years ago I decided to work less and to be more active in the community and with global issues, and was able to do so. Although my income decreased, our sons had finished college and expenditures also had decreased. Working less allowed me to be active in volunteer organizations. Now I am involved in one local—Durango Nature Studies; one national—a committee of Planned Parenthood; and one international—Quaker Earthcare Witness.

I will continue practicing office gynecology. One of my goals is to take part in a Food and Drug Administration study of Quinacrine Sterilization. This is a means of permanent female sterilization that can be done without anesthesia. It is so simple that midwives have performed thousands of these procedures. QS uses a drug, quinicrine, that was developed in the 1930s as a replacement for quinine to prevent or treat malaria. It was prescribed to millions of GIs during the Second World War. The FDA has approved quinacrine for several uses, but not yet for sterilization. I hope to participate in a study of QS that will start in 2012. Quinacrine sterilization holds the promise of providing inexpensive, safe control of fertility for the millions of the world’s women who want to prevent pregnancy permanently.

Through the years I have been amazed by this community’s support. For instance, the Ballantine family has published this column for over 16 years. They allow me to own the articles’ copyrights so some of the articles have been reprinted, and I distribute them to 75 people in several countries by email. I plan to continue writing Population Matters! which may be the only regularly published newspaper column in the world that focuses on human population issues.

Providing safe, legal and caring abortion services has been controversial, but one of my priorities. I know that many people oppose abortion; I honor their feelings. But I also appreciate that there are many, many who support access to abortion. Twice in the past week strangers have come up to me to thank me for being a doctor who performs abortions.

It has been just 35 years since I started working here—more than a third of a century. The time has come for new people to take the reins. I would like to introduce Dr. Brie Todd, who has just joined Four Corners OB-GYN. She is a perfect fit with the rest of the staff of the organization—compassionate, up-to-date and technically excellent. I will continue working a few days a month in the office. For pregnant women or those who need frequent visits, I am happy to turn their care over to Dr. Todd and the other physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistant at Four Corners.

            On this day, Christmas, I would like to recall a very important birth that is celebrated by two billion people worldwide. Two thousand years ago childbirth was dangerous, especially in a stable. In many parts of the world it still is perilous. We can be thankful that we live here and now, and that the little boy who was born on this day, and his mother, both did well.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2011



“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment to the Constitution, United States of America


Tuesday a few weeks ago I got an email requesting that I join an Occupy Wall Street sympathy demonstration in Durango that afternoon. I decided to drive by to check it out.

For years I have occasionally demonstrated at the corner of 11th and Main on Friday afternoons. Charlie and M’Lou Swift began this peace vigil shortly after past president Bush started the war in Iraq. Sadly, Charlie died this September at age 92. He did not live to know that President Obama promised that all our troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year.

Of course the small number of people standing on the corner in our little town didn’t influence Obama to stop the war, but we did help keep antiwar sentiment alive. The hundreds of people who passed that corner in the hour we stood there fell into three categories. A few expressed disagreement by flipping us off or spraying diesel exhaust in our faces. Many looked at the signs we held but did not express any sentiment. But it was gratifying how many people paused in the cars to smile and nod, make a “V” sign with their fingers or honk their horns in agreement.

In high school I attended a number of protests against war organized by the Religious Society of Friends, and helped organize one. We had training in nonviolence to ensure the tone of the demonstrations. They were all peaceful.

Most social change has come at the cost of bloodshed, although nearly all religions espouse peace and nonviolence. Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): “…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you….” A peaceful, respectful approach to change follows from this mandate.

Nonviolent protests have made huge changes to the modern world. Gandhi used the technique to free India from British imperialism. Martin Luther King Jr. led the African-American Civil Rights Movement using nonviolent techniques. And a winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee, guided the women of Liberia in nonviolent protests to free Liberia from its former tyrannical leader, Charles Taylor. The movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” is a wonderful depiction of that historical event.

Back to Durango and the Occupy Wall Street movement. A lot of the anger of the Occupy movement is against the large banking corporations that have lost billions of dollars for our citizens, but then were bailed out with our tax money. A friend expressed concern to me that I was quoted (correctly) in the Herald: “I think that giving corporations essentially personhood is one of the largest mistakes made by our country, and I think that needs to be rescinded”. John Dowling (president of the local branch of the Bank of Colorado) and I agree that this statement does not apply to our local financial institutions. It applies to the massive investment banking corporations that exalt profit and growth rather than sustainability.

When I drove by the Occupy protest that afternoon, rather than the young radicals I expected to find there were thirty or forty people who were middle aged or older. Unexpectedly, the person who had sent the invitation that morning was a friend who had retired from a career in industry. He is concerned about the state our democracy and wants to get people involved and visible. Just as largely nonviolent protests brought about amazing change in Egypt and Libya —the “Arab Spring”—this sort of participatory democracy can help improve our country.

A few days later I was pleased to read in the Herald that members of Occupy Durango approached City Council to ask permission to stay in Fassbinder Park overnight. Although their request was denied, they received something much more valuable. From the Herald: “The mayor and each city councilor praised Occupy Durango protesters for their courage, moral code and expressed solidarity with the movement’s message of economic justice and social reform.” These are young, thoughtful people.

I am pleased that American tradition of demonstrations is still alive in Durango and the rest of the country. I hope that the protestors will continue to exercise their right “peaceably to assemble”, and that the police will be nonviolent.

© Richard Grossman, MD