Popular doc hanging up his stethoscope

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 11:18 14/06/2014
Chris Kalderimis
FAIRFAX NZ

SIGNING OFF: Dr Chris Kalderimis is putting down his stethoscope after 35 years.

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Wellington

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A lot has changed since Chris Kalderimis first became a doctor 35 years ago. For a start, we're all fatter - but we smoke less, and that goes for the doctors too.

"I remember going to our family doctor as a child, and he would smoke away as he saw you," Kalderimis says.

But the 64-year-old Wellingtonian, who came to New Zealand when he was one, says the biggest change has come from the internet.

He believes it is an excellent tool for patients to learn more about their conditions - but only once they have a diagnosis from their doctor.

You can ask a computer why you have a sore stomach, but don't expect the right answer if you're trying to diagnose your own aches and ills.

"Everyone comes in thinking they've got cancer."

But it's a tool that offers more good than bad.

"It has empowered patients and they're much better informed now. Often they know more about their conditions than I do," he says, laughing.

The internet also kept him updated on medical advancements for his popular health column, which he wrote for more than two decades for The Dominion Post.

He says another major change has been the arrival of cellphones and pagers, particularly improving contact in emergencies.

"Years ago, even going to the movies was a mission."

These days, patients can access medical notes from their home computers, and health providers can more easily share medical information, improving care. "There is technology now that I had never dreamed about."

Kalderimis arrived in New Zealand in 1951 with his Romanian parents, who had spent several months in a refugee camp in Greece.

Island Bay was their first Kiwi home, where his two sisters were born. By the time he headed to the local primary school, he still couldn't speak English.

Nowadays, his accent has no trace of Romanian, although he can still speak his mother tongue.

After attending Wellington College, he headed to Otago University to study microbiology before starting medical training.

"All along as a kid [medicine] was what I wanted to do. I liked the idea of doing things that would make a difference."

His wife of five years, Jean, died of cancer during his final year as a medical student. They were both only 27 and had a six- month-old son, Daniel.

"It was tough. But as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

The painful loss of his young wife helped him to empathise with others in times of grief.

After graduating in 1977, he gained his diploma in obstetrics before moving to Wellington to start at Dr Gray's surgery in Willis St in 1979.

The practice shifted a few doors up the road in 1986 and was eventually renamed City GPs.

Kalderimis estimates he has helped to deliver about 4000 babies. "I remember the first woman ended up having a Caesarean section."

Obstetrics was one of his favourite roles, but a combination of his advancing age and changes to childbirth services in New Zealand prompted his withdrawal about 12 years ago, the second-last Wellington general practitioner to hand over to midwives. "I really enjoyed it. It's a great privilege being in people's lives like that for something that is usually positive. I think it's sad family doctors are no longer doing that."

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He remarried and had two more sons and a daughter with his second wife, Marion. They have two grandchildren, also in Wellington. "I'm planning to stay here because of them."

He has followed his own advice as a doctor, staying fit, eating healthily and ditching smoking.

The fact two medical colleagues are terminally ill with brain tumours has sparked him into retirement while he is healthy. "I've got a long bucket list."

First stop after he finishes on June 27 is a three-week trip with his wife to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Then he hopes to tick off the Milford Track and Central Otago Rail Trail, plus Romania, to which he has returned only once.

It's not a complete farewell to medicine - he plans to do some locum stints around the city - but he will miss his regular patients.

"My patients, after 30 years, are friends really. The great thing about this job is, in 34 years, I never had to watch the clock. I loved it."

- The Dominion Post

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