‘Dr. E’ elated to serve community

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Employees of Covington Pediatrics surprised Dr. Charles Eldridge on Wednesday with a lunch to celebrate his 40th anniversary as a pediatrician.

“I graduated from med school, loaded my red Volkswagen Beetle with one gray-primed fender, and drove to Houston, Texas, to go to work,” Eldridge recalled of the date.

Then he laughed.

“I only broke down twice,” he said.

Medical advancements in those four decades have improved available treatment. But in some ways, it is harder to practice medicine, he said.

“It’s harder to keep up with technology and information,” he said. “But the biggest challenge is that people have so much more access to information.”

When he first started practicing medicine, parents took a doctor’s advice immediately. Now, many listen to a doctor’s diagnosis, do research on the Internet, and question treatment.

It’s good that parents and patients are so involved, he said. But there is a problem.

“Not all information on the Internet is correct,” he said. “Sometimes, the hardest job we have is overcoming that misinformation.”

The illnesses treated by pediatricians also have changed.

“We see less of the classical measles, chicken pox, tuberculosis and diphtheria than we saw when I started,” he said. “Most of those you don’t see anymore. I have a young associate who’s never seen a case of the red measles because they’re never around to see.”

But there are plenty of immune system dysfunctions to treat, like allergies, asthma and chronic ear disease.

“Some of those are caused by the environment,” said the man fondly known in Andalusia as “Dr. E”. “We also see more auto-immune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which you hardly ever saw back then.”

“There was still polio when I started,” he said. “You don’t see that anymore.”

Back then, pediatricians were more disease-oriented in their practices. Now, much of a pediatrician’s work is related to family and behavioral issues.

“There’s really been a change in focus,” he said. “When I was growing up, I did have a pediatrician, but that was unusual because there weren’t many around. But my mother wouldn’t have dreamed of calling him because I was having problems at school.”

Eldridge said it is a basic operational goal for him and for others at Covington Pediatrics to be a friend of the children they treat.

“We are part of their lives. We want them to know it is fine if they talk to us, if they come up to us in the grocery store,” he said. “We don’t want them to associate us with white coats and shots, but with fun things.”

That, he said, is the key for understanding all of their problems.

“We want to be ‘undoctor-y,’” he said. “Not prototypical, but approachable.”

Dr. E has spent 16 of his 40 years practicing medicine in Andalusia and said he has no plans to retire.

“I’m not a good golfer or a good artist,” he said. “I like coming to work every morning, and I plan to keep on doing that as long as I feel like I’m effective.”