Dr. Paul LaPrad retired last week. That name might mean nothing to you, or it might mean everything. Maine is a small state, and given that he has practiced pulmonology for somewhere between 25 and 30 years at MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick, chances are good that someone you care about has had their quantity of life extended or their quality of life improved by Dr. LaPrad. (I have been unable to ascertain the exact length of time he has been here. I think he is trying to shroud himself in mystery.)

The most important thing you must know about Dr. LaPrad is that I have never seen him turn away a patient. The second most important thing you must know is that one time the building’s fire alarm went off and he refused to evacuate without his plate of Christmas cookies from the cookie swap. The man has his priorities in order.

If you’ve never met Dr. LaPrad – well, on the one hand that’s good because it means you probably don’t have lung problems, but on the other hand you’re missing out. He is everything that a doctor should be, and exactly the person you want to show up at your bedside, calm and steady, should you have the misfortune to land in the intensive care unit. There have been many occasions where I’ve arrived at the office early or left late, only to see him still at his computer, peering closely at what look to me like random gray blobs but which are actually incredibly high tech images of lungs. He can tell you if the blobs are good or if the blobs are bad (a surprising amount of practicing medicine involves blobs).

Dr. LaPrad has also shown the patience of a saint in dealing with me. We have been working in the same office for a year and I have a habit of sticking my head into his office, interrupting what is usually important medical paperwork, to ask incredibly stupid questions like “how much coffee would I have to drink before I die?” and “can a large dog sitting on your chest trigger an asthma attack?” He always answers them. Usually after a heavy sigh, but he answers them. (It’s entirely possible that one year with me as a coworker has driven him into retirement.)

He’s gotten me back, though. One time I made the mistake of wearing a dress with hearts on it and he roasted me so bad that I had to go buy a dress with lungs on it just to get him back. He has also served as an occasional uncredited fact checker/medical adviser for this column.

It’s a cliche that people retire to spend more time with their grandchildren, but in Dr. LaPrad’s case it happens to be true. He is the platonic ideal of a grandfather. He’s got the khakis, he’s got the vests, he’s got the hobbies that involve an inordinate amount of puttering around. I once saw him pick up a co-workers newborn; someone warned him that the baby was fussy, and Dr. LaPrad, with the confident assurance of a man who knew he spoke only truth, said “babies don’t cry when I’m holding them.” I have not seen any evidence to disprove this.

I’m sort of hoping that Dr. LaPrad will pull a Tom Brady and come back after two months of retirement, but I know in my heart of hearts that’s unlikely to happen. The man deserves a break. The last two years should have been a gentle downward slope to retirement, and instead we had a global respiratory pandemic. And Dr. LaPrad did his duty to God and country by buttoning up his scrub smock and working insane shifts in the ICU, ventilating patient after patient after patient. I have never seen him give less than 110 percent. After everything that happened with my dad, I was a little wary of doctors. As far as I was concerned, they were mostly people who came into the room, delivered devastating news, and left. Dr LaPrad and our gang of merry pulmonologists have helped restore my faith in doctors.

Dr. LaPrad reminds me of my father. If you’ve been following this column for awhile, you will know that’s just about the highest compliment I can pay a man. Working with him for the past year has been an honor and a privilege. I will miss him.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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