From croup to sensory processing disorder, local pediatrician, Dr. Danny Melson, has diagnosed it all. More over, he’s been a confidant and encourager for thousands of patients, moms and dads the last 40 plus years.
He doesn’t mind being called the local “baby doctor.” After all, treating adolescents has been his life.
But, with a laugh, he says it’s pretty clear that he’s now getting rather great-grandfatherly. He’s been treating generations; he now has 7 great-grandchildren.
Come Christmas, he won’t be treating kiddos for flu, colds or what ails them. That’s the hardest part of it all, parting ways with the patients, he recently said.
As he talked, his office staff at the Northside Professional Building were removing photos from the waiting room. That’s a little tough, they advised, to see a once very loud and lively waiting room now so quiet and empty.
The practice has storage units all over town filled with medical charts. Moving a pediatrician’s office is not for the faint of heart, the doc explained. “We’ve got boxes everywhere . . . moving equipment here and there. It’s much more difficult, in my opinion, closing a practice than opening one.”
As for his personal life, he notes that his two sons, Timmy and Josh, were small when he was in medical school decades ago. Wife, Linda, held most of the parenting responsibilities by default.
While he was treating everyone else’s children, he regrettably missed out on his own fatherly experiences, he notes. So he plans to spend more time with his family during his retirement years, perhaps even travel.
While the pandemic didn’t nudge him into retirement, he said he won’t miss that. But it was a medical experience to witness.
COVID-19 and children
As for COVID-19, he’s treated cases in children over the last couple of years. “It didn’t seem quite as hazardous potentially for children as it was for the geriatric population . . . . But, that virus was a little strange, because it would fool you sometimes.”
He’s seen it render seemingly healthy people in this community useless. Others who had more health issues often seemed to do better.
The Shelbyville physician has always done a lot of research within his practice. He witnessed how COVID-19 seemed to have shifted the entire viral process across the board.
A lot of his patients, those who had previously been hospitalized, also had co-existing respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, he revealed. He explained that the RSV season is typically between November and April. But during the pandemic, RSV was showing up in the summer months.
As for the flu, “We went there for a while, early on when COVID first hit, and we didn’t see much flu. It was sort of like flu just disappeared. But now, it’s back this season. We’re seeing several cases of flu, already, now.”
Dr. Melson notes COVID, in relation to the children treated in his office, wasn’t much more serious in symptoms than the flu. He knows after all these years how serious influenza can be for kids.
“We lose kids across the country, with the flu. We lose adults with, the flu. You don’t usually hear about those cases . . . .”
Being honest, he’s naturally seen a lot of boogers in all forms, fashions and colors. But seriously, while he has treated countless strains of bacteria over the years, Dr. Melson said COVID-19 was really odd from a medical science perspective.
He described it as “just a genetic piece of material—one waiting on a human cell to take it up.” The seasoned doc advised that the cellular system follows “instructions,” which is to make proteins, etc., he explained. It’s an experience he’ll never forget as a physician.
“A lot of the antivirals that we use are designed to either keep the virus from attaching to the cell or keep the virus from penetrating inside the cell—to take over the cellular machinery and the raw materials. That’s what viruses do.”
Bottomline, he advises how viruses do not have brain cells. “They can’t do anything on their own. They need our own cells to do the work for them.”
What’s in store for the baby doc?
Upon “retirement,” he likely won’t write books or submit to medical journals. But Dr. Danny said he loves to teach.
“I really enjoy teaching my patients and their families about the disease process . . . what’s going on and how to manage problems at home.”
He said he believes in giving parents as much information as possible in relation to their child’s illness. And he thinks that’s been a comfort to many families over the years. “ . . . a time to sleep for me too.”
When little “Johnny” wakes up with a croupy cough at 2 a.m., they know the four to five things they can do to relieve that cough and save the child from further respiratory problems. He said they can then come into the office the next morning.
Most locals know by now he’s a gentle doctor with that preferred bedside manner. Dr. Melson advises, “If you don’t know how to do that and you have a really sick child in the middle of the night, it can be terrifying.”
His career has been filled with advising parents to put their croupy child in a steamed bathroom or take them outside for some fresh air. “I always wanted my patients to leave the office with some sort of idea as to what I thought was going on with them and how we planned to manage it.”
Of course he always told them to call him. “It served us well. We’ve been happy with the way things have gone.”
He estimates he’s treated thousands of patients. His office has served through adolescence years but that definition has even changed over the years.
“The insurance companies started making parents insure their children until age 26. We had a lot who didn’t want to leave. So, that was a way to nudge two more years into their care.”
By then, it was time for the second generation of patients to enter the office. The rest is of course history.
Vaccines and antibiotics
While his early career included treating chicken pox cases, Dr. Melson said that illness and others, thanks to vaccines, are becoming a thing of the past. “We rarely see chicken pox anymore. It’s been decades since I’ve seen a true case of red measles.”
Still, there’s more disease lurking around, including dangerous strains of bacteria. It’s an ongoing process, learning and treating the diseases of adolescence.
Dr. Melson notes that his office began its own testing in-house. Over the years, they come up with a lot of “simple” tests to do in office, such as the rapid Coronavirus test and rapid RSV test. “In the past . . . years ago, our biggest concern was to rule out bacterial things early on, if we could, because we only wanted to use antibiotics for bacterial things, because antibiotics don’t really do anything to treat a viral infection—never have, never will.”
Using antibiotics unnecessarily leads to resistant bacteria, he said. “I think there’s a lot of resistant bacteria out there. And, the more we abuse antibiotics, the more we’re likely to get resistant bacteria.”
Sinus infections and bronchitis are viral, the doctor reveals. But in today’s society of free information, he said it is sometimes difficult to convince parents/patients that they don’t need antibiotics.
Children’s medicine is unique, he said. But he tries to help families understand the basis of an illness.
Closing the practice
Again, behind every good pediatrician is the spouse, usually taking care of your own children. When asked how long she’s worked at Dr. Melson’s office, Linda explained with a smile, “On and off forever.”
She grew up in Bell Buckle and Dr. Melson in Pleasant Grove. They began the practice here in August 1981.
Out of his total 44 years in medicine, 41 of them have been spent right in this community. “This is home for us,” he shared recently from his office.
In fact, Dr. Charles Stimpson’s mom was his 4th grade teacher. Dr. Stimpson and the other doctors in the Northside Professional building will be moving their practices, with the exception of Dr. Sammy Sells, who he’s worked closely with for years; they’re across the hall from one another. (Dr. Sells has recently retired.)
Dr. Melson and Dr. Sells have been partners in medicine, but also really good friends. They were even neighbors at one time.
In fact, they worked so close that people often got them confused, he shared. “It got to the point where we stopped correcting them,” said Dr. Danny.
The Northside Professional Building where they’ve given most of their lives is changing. Rutherford Primary Care, Inc., (Primary Care and Hope) made the offer on their building. They will bring their own communication center here to operate their rural health clinic, according to Dr. Melson. Basically, they bought the building, so the doctors, including Dr. Melson, had to move.
But, Dr. Danny realizes it is time. Now, he just needs time, and a lot of physical space, to make it official. He laughs about the number of storage units they have in the area.
No doubt, Dr. Danny is one of the last remaining, life-long pediatricians to serve Shelbyville and beyond. There are, however, some new pediatricians who’ve moved here with various medical groups.
At 1701 North Main St., B suite, the toys and books which served to occupy little sick folks are now packed. A lot of the furniture will be donated.
The little children’s step stools which gave them courage to climb upon the examine table are now gone. The stack of lollipops has dwindled.
Dr. Danny’s patients have now transferred to medical practices. He’s still helping with that process and likely will for a while.
When it came to saying goodbye to the children this month, Dr. Danny admits he’s had to choke back more than a few tears. Wife, Linda, ever the doctor’s support and confidant, notes, “One little girl chose to come to our house.”