Story by Taylor Strickland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Doctor Prioritizes Patients in End–of–Life Care
Doctor Prioritizes Patients in End–of–Life Care
When asked about gratitude, former Director of Hospice and current chairman of the Ethics Committee, Dr. David Elliot, has a solemn response. “I’m grateful for the generosity of the American people and the soldiers that came to England during World War II. They would throw candies to us from the backs of their trucks. It was the first we’d had in years.”
David was born in England just before the beginning of World War II. He remembers the strife that blanketed the world at the time and the peace the Allied forces brought with them. “I am grateful to all of the servicemen in World War II for their sacrifice on my behalf.”
“I’ve always been curious about the natural world,” David shares. This curiosity guided David toward the medical field at a young age. “I finished high school at 16, and then I started to do a pharmacy apprenticeship. Pharmacists, in those days, weren’t attached to hospitals; they were managers of the stores.”
Much like David’s childhood, his apprenticeship was cut short by war. “After two years of working in the store, I got drafted. I had a chance to be deferred, but I decided to go in. I went in the Air Force and ended up in Iraq.”
“I did some college stuff while in the Air Force, but towards the end of the war, the Iraqis revolted and pretty much kept us as prisoners of war. We finally got out of there in 1959. We all had to come out in civilian clothes, and we had to go through Fallujah, where they stoned us,” David says impassively.
“I got back and thought maybe pharmacy wasn’t quite what I wanted to do, so I ended up with a degree in microbiology.” David worked through his degree, and his employer at the time enabled him to emigrate to the United States.
“I came over here to teach microbiology at the University of Miami medical school,” David recalls. He planned on getting a PhD in microbiology, but found that he didn’t enjoy the staid life of a researcher. “I didn’t want to spend my life working in a lab, so I decided I was going to go to medical school. I thought that would be much more fulfilling.”
After conquering an unnecessarily convoluted application process, David finally got into medical school. “My wife Karen and I were married at this point,” he explains. “She worked as a receptionist at the lab.”
David was accepted at Duke University for his internship and residency. “That was fantastic!” David exclaims. “The learning process at Duke was unbelievable. It was hard work: 36 hours on, 12 hours off for three years.”
“Karen supported me all the way through,” David says fondly. “Both of my children were born while we were at Duke—Matthew and Ian.” After a brief time in North Carolina, David and his family made their way to the Ocala area in 1979. It was there that David became involved in the movement that would define his professional career. “I began to realize that in medicine, the real sick people are in geriatrics, and that led me to hospice.”
Hospice care in Ocala began with David and four nurses. “We would get together every couple of weeks. After six months, we decided to start a hospice care center. The idealism of hospice always appealed to me, because we could get the social workers to come in and help the patients with their debts, help them with their wills and all of those things you can’t do in private practice.”
David and his cohorts quickly realized they were out of their depths. “The nurses and I were idealistic,” David laughs. “We didn’t understand how to run a hospice. We just wanted to look after patients. Our idealism got us together, but administration kept the place running.
“We started with one full-time nurse, one part-time social worker, one volunteer chaplain, me as a volunteer medical director, and another gentlemen who knew how to do the administrative stuff. Almost all of our patients in those early years were cancer patients; treatment was a matter of pain control and family care.”
Pain control and family care are part of the trifecta that David refers to as “adequate proper total care,” a concept taken from the progenitor of the modern hospice movement, Dame Cicily Saunders. “It’s so important that people can pass without social problems and spiritual problems, as well as medical support,” David explains. “Often, doctors didn’t want to look after them when they were terminally ill, when they need a doctor more than any other time.”
Eventually, David had to step back from his role as director. “I was still private practice at the time, and it was just too much,” he admits. “But, I still serve as chairman on a lot of the local medical committees.”
Now that David is mostly retired, he enjoys spending time at his RODEO club. “It stands for Retired Old Doctors Eating Out. We meet every Tuesday.”