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A Real-Life Marcus Welby in Burbank


Shortly after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Dr. Herbert M. Rubin asked patient John Yepez of San Fernando why his wife, Lois, had not come to the physician's Burbank office for her appointment. Upon hearing that the woman could not get to her clothing in the quake's aftermath, Rubin told Yepez, "You go to a department store and get two or three outfits, and send the bill to me."

When patient Ann Lynch was too ill to get out of bed, Rubin was at her Glendale home within 30 minutes to care for her.

And until another patient hired an aide recently, Rubin or one of his staff regularly shuttled the woman to and from her appointments at his office.

The "Marcus Welby, M.D." television series may have left the airwaves 20 years ago, but the man who could have given Welby a tip or two is still in practice. The character played by Robert Young might also have accepted a home-cooked chicken in lieu of payment, as Rubin has, but did he ever open his office in the middle of the night to set the torn beak of a patient's parakeet?

For 46 years, Rubin has been a general practitioner and surgeon in Burbank, treating as many as four generations of family members, first as a doctor of osteopathy and since 1962 as an MD. In an era of HMOs, when time with a physician is a carefully rationed commodity, Rubin makes it clear to his patients that he is on call 24 hours a day, be it a 3 a.m. phone call or a 60-minute drive to La Can~ada and back.

"I've been making house calls as long as I've been here," Rubin says with a what's-all-the-fuss-about shrug. "It's nothing to me. It's to be expected.

"How do you get to know patients if you don't see them at home, meet their families? Forty percent of medicine is psychodynamic--how the mind affects the body."

His consideration of patients extends to financial as well as medical problems. If necessary, he will write off the portion of the bill not covered by insurance. And he has been known to treat destitute strangers.

"I've been for socialized medicine," he says. "You should be able to treat somebody if they're sick."

Declining to give his age, Rubin, a grandfather, instructs, "Just say thirtysomething." On this recent busy Thursday morning, he makes the rounds of patients in his office.

He banters with Burbank couple Mary Ann and Joe De Palo, patients since the day they arrived in California 40 years ago with a daughter ill with mumps. He tells Mary to increase the dosage of the medication she is taking and cheers her weight loss, then examines Joe, who has had ear surgery. "He's not only our doctor, he's our friend," Mary says later. "We love him like you would a brother."

Then there are John and Lois Yepez, patients for 45 years. Lois declined to accept Rubin's offer to buy her new clothes, but when taken ill on trips, she has immediately flown home to Rubin's care.

Patient after patient echoes the same sentiments. They hope he will never retire because they wouldn't know what to do without him. The devotion is mutual, so much so that in 1994 and 1995, when Rubin had two back surgeries for disk problems and could only stand or lie down but not sit, he continued to practice for part of the period between operations.

Indeed, says San Fernando general surgeon Dr. Leonard Kovner, a colleague of nearly 40 years whom Rubin has assisted in surgeries, "Even in the golden days when we were very busy and on a tight schedule, a patient wasn't just a patient. It wasn't, 'I've got an appy--appendectomy.' Dr. Rubin immediately told you about a person to go along with the patient description. You felt this was someone he was interested in. He's one of the last few bastions of private practice as we knew it years ago--person to person."

Rubin has no plans to retire. "I enjoy what I do," he says.

The news will come as a relief to his patients. As 81-year-old Lois Yepez says, "I don't want another doctor to touch me. I hope he outlives me."

* This occasional column tells the stories of the unsung heroes of Southern California, people of all ages and vocations and avocations, whose dedication as volunteers or on the job makes life better for the people they encounter. Reader suggestions are welcome and may be sent to Local Hero Editor, Life & Style, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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