BAR HARBOR — Dr. Edward Gilmore has seen a lot in his 46 years of medical practice on Mount Desert Island, but he’s still all smiles.
The beloved physician retired at the end of May after caring for three generations of families here. He practiced at the Cooper Gilmore Health Center at Mount Desert Island Hospital, named for him and his late colleague Dr. Llewellyn Cooper.
“What I will remember the most, of course, is what I enjoyed the most, and that’s one-on-one patient care,” he said. “Patients appreciate it if you listen to them.”
Gilmore was named a master of the American College of Physicians, the highest honor available. He has been honored for his skill in teaching younger doctors and his advocacy for nurses and other hospital staff.
He’s also known for his wide grin and ubiquitous bow tie.
“Bow ties don’t fall into wounds, they’re not messy like long ties,” he said. “Now most physicians don’t wear ties at all.”
“I believe that happiness is at least 90 percent attitude, and I think I’ve seen that confirmed,” he said. “If people want to get better, if they’re motivated to get better, they have a better outcome. Even people who get stricken with terrible outcomes that are insoluble, some of them are happier than people who are just day-to-day fretting about little things.
“I had a quadriplegic patient for many years,” he said, “who dove into the wrong end of the swimming pool when he was 18. He broke his neck and never moved his arms and legs again. He was self-sufficient, and he was a mouth artist. He enjoyed life as much as you or I.”
Gilmore graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1965 and did residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Midway through this residency, he worked for the Public Health Service in Denver, Colo., in lieu of military service, because he was a conscientious objector.
The late Harold MacQuinn claimed the title of Gilmore’s first Bar Harbor patient, as he had heart surgery at Mass. General when Gilmore was a senior resident there.
“It was my job to prepare him for heart surgery,” he said. “In those days, if someone had a replacement heart valve, you could hear it. You could hear his. But he had that same heart valve over 30 years. His was one of the families where I’ve taken care of three generations.”
Gilmore arrived in Bar Harbor in 1971 and joined the Medical Associates of Mount Desert Island with Cooper and Drs. Winston and Nancy Stuart.
“When I came in ‘71, the only heart monitors we had were for surgical patients that were given anesthesia,” he said. “So I would have patients in the hospital on heart monitors. But when it came time for surgery, the monitors were taken off, put on the surgical patient, after the surgery they’re put back on the medical patient. Which is not ideal, but it was better than zero.”
He and local contractor Tubby Collier designed the hospital’s first intensive care unit on a napkin in the hospital cafeteria. In the tradition of philanthropy that has enabled MDI Hospital to continue operating as an independent, modern hospital, the $10,000 cost of the ICU was paid with a private gift.
The practice of medicine has changed drastically since those days, but he hopes providers can still find time to listen carefully to their patients.
“When doctors start spending more than half their time staring at a computer screen … that’s not why a lot of us chose this field,” he said. “There’s a tendency in medicine now, if you get a chief complaint – shortness of breath, abdominal pain, whatever – it sets in motion an algorithm or a protocol. That’s not the way I solve problems.
“One of my professors many, many years ago said to me, if you’ll just be quiet and listen to the patient, they’ll tell you the diagnosis. If you get a careful history, you’re 90 percent sure what the diagnosis is. Laboratory tests and physical examination are just to confirm what you expect.”
He also urges good communication between members of medical teams. “If a nurse brings something up, the doctor who doesn’t listen is a fool,” he said. “Nobody’s right all the time. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen.”
He plans to remain in Bar Harbor, where he and his late wife, Marsha, raised their three children.
“This is my home,” he said.
He plans to “let the dust settle” as he begins his retirement. “I don’t have a long bucket list. One of my professors at Harvard, after he retired, for many years he wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine called ‘Notes of a Biology Watcher.’ I intend to be a biology watcher, and I might do some writing.”
To start, he’s very much enjoying the slower pace of his mornings and being able to linger over a second cup of coffee.