Dr. Robert (Bob) Allin
A beaming smile tells a tale where words might fail: Bob Allin knows he’s blessed.
At 69, he finds himself surrounded by loving family – expanded now to include three grandchildren (whose mention brings an inevitable twinkle to grandpa’s eye) – as well as his wife, Lesley, and two grown daughters.
He’s woven himself deeply into the community fabric of Port Perry through years of service as a physician and Rotarian. And his wise choice of vocation is underlined by that smile, which forms again as he describes the professional fulfillment he continues to feel strongly at an age when many others would opt for retirement.
“Originally, I thought I’d retire at 60,” he laughs. “But the last few years have been especially satisfying, and I work with great people at the clinic and the hospital.”
“Family physician” may be Bob’s most commonly recognized title, but medically speaking, far from his only portfolio. With responsibilities as an anesthesiologist, coroner, and teacher, Bob Allin maintains a rigourous work schedule.
The road to a medical career began beyond our town: it ran from a farm near rural Bowmanville, made a brief detour into Western Canada and a short stop in another Ontario community.
Choosing not to follow in his father’s farming footsteps, Bob gravitated instead to a professional path where he could capitalize on his strength in high school sciences.
Bob’s initial posting, after completing his internship, was in Vancouver. But, he soon discovered there was too much of the small-town boy in the young doctor. Brooklin – much closer to family and reminiscent of his hometown – beckoned.
This more satisfying site soon revealed an interesting patient demographic which, ultimately, would guide the fledgling physician to his lifetime location.
“In Brooklin, I saw a sizable number of patients from Port Perry. I learned that it was listed among Ontario’s ‘under-doctored’ communities. Not only that, but there was a need for a new clinic in town – there was only one at that time. And once the new hospital opened (in April, 1969), we felt a facility to house a number of new doctors would help to keep it vibrant.”
Along with two colleagues, Dr. Bill Cohoon and Dr. Ralph Price, Port Perry’s Medical Associates was born.
The new clinic began humbly, he remembers. “It’s hard to imagine now, but the original clinic was just the flat-roofed section at the north end of today’s building. It’s been very gratifying, to watch that little clinic grow along with the population of the area.”
As Bob and his co-founders had predicted, the new clinic did contribute to the health of the Port Perry Hospital. Bob Allin again played a role, as a member of its Board of Directors.
“In the early 1970s, the University of Toronto wanted to expand its physicians’ training beyond downtown
Toronto. Bill (Dr. Cohoon) served as liaison with the university, so when an agreement was finalized, we began instructing residents. Today, Port Perry is the U of T’s most senior teaching facility,” he says proudly.
Dr. Cohoon proposed performing minor surgery in Port Perry and it was this initiative which allowed Bob to begin diversifying his career beyond family practice, as a surgeon, inevitably, needs an anesthetist.
Preconceptions permeate public perceptions of
anesthesiology. But you won’t hear a trace of impatience in his tone while explaining this highly technical and demanding medical role.
“Some people think the anesthetist’s job ends after a sedative is administered,” he laughs. “It’s quite the opposite!”
An anesthetist remains in charge of the patient’s vital signs – breathing, heart rate, blood pressure – during any procedure. Each element is manually charted. In addition, the level of sedation must be closely monitored throughout, demanding unbroken concentration as well as close communication with the surgeon.
“I’m very active and busy in my own right, so I’m not focusing on what he or she is doing. But we talk a great deal. If one of us is having difficulty, the other needs to know immediately.”
A number of factors contribute to the anesthetist’s challenge. “Everyone metabolizes anesthetic differently, so it will wear off at much different rates. Health, weight, and an individual’s makeup are all factors. It’s crucial to both surgeon and patient to maintain a consistent level of sedation. And when the operation is nearing its end, that level must be adjusted so the patient emerges from sedation at the appropriate moment.”
Health and age have, historically, been key factors in determining whether or not to proceed with surgery. As a person ages, the vital organs lose efficiency, creating greater risk under anesthetic. But despite these unchanged medical facts, Bob indicates there has been a significant shift in attitude on both sides of the scalpel, even for the elderly.
“People live longer now, for one thing. And the public has a desire – you could almost call it expectation – that if a surgical option exists, the doctor should go ahead.
“I know of a 94-year old who had a hip replacement…two years later she was back to have the other one done! Granted, she was healthy, but at one time, her age would’ve ruled out surgery as a consideration.”
His busy professional schedule extends beyond family practice, anesthesiology, and teaching to include a “sideline,” one which inevitably invites curious questioning – among medical professionals and magazine writers alike.
“Yes, it can sometimes be unpleasant,” he admits of his role as coroner. “But you do get hardened to it over time. And it’s an important function, an opportunity for the medical community to learn, so even if the scene is grisly, you quickly regain your objectivity. And it has its own scientific ‘attraction,’ because no two circumstances are ever the same.”
The Coroner’s function has evolved considerably from its origins in old England (where the title may have been “crowner”) when he was charged with gathering the King’s taxes from the expired. The modern practitioner, Bob explains, is a medical investigator.
One in four deaths will require a coroner’s examination, and among those, Bob will order one autopsy.
“Any time there’s a sudden, unexpected death, or one during surgery, one of us (Bob is among a rotated group of qualified professionals) is called in,” he explains. “The Coroner’s report provides an explanation which may be valuable for future, similar circumstances.”
Like his interest in medicine, Bob developed an affinity for community service as an adolescent. His involvement began as a high school student awarded a trip to Kingston’s Queens University to study the United Nations.
“That stimulated my interest in Rotary,” he remembers. “They do wonderful work.”
Bob would repay the favour of his youthful experience to another generation of teenagers when he continued his involvement as an adult. As Youth Exchange Chair, he coordinated a program which allowed year-long exchanges with young overseas Rotarians.
Bob remains a charter member of Port Perry’s Rotary Club. Only the weight of his professional commitments precluded long-term membership in the group’s executive. And with his schedule, who would question that decision?
Outright “retirement” isn’t yet listed in this devoted physician’s lexicon. But when that “right” time to retire does arrive, Bob expects to continue with a busy schedule – though of a much different kind.
“We both love to travel,” he says. “My wife has relatives in Tasmania, so we’ll visit there. And here at home, we’ll work around our (Port Perry waterfront) property… gardening and such. We enjoy boating in summer and skiing in winter.”
With a proud glow, he adds, “And of course we’ll have lots of time for (grandchildren) Abby, who’s three, Cassie, she’s two, and Callum, now six months. They keep us very interested and very busy!”
Some people place value on a job’s prestige or income potential. But others would argue – and Bob Allin surely numbers among them – that personal fulfillment remains one of life’s greatest rewards. Only a few can say with conviction – 50 years along a demanding career path – that they enjoy their work as passionately as ever. Port Perry can be thankful to claim one of this rare breed as its own.
By Scott Mercer
Focus on Scugog