"It takes five years to learn when to operate. 20 years to learn when not to."
These words, iced onto his cake at his retirement reception Tuesday, are a sort of catchphrase of beloved doctor Dilip Parulekar, better known to his patients and coworkers as Dr. P.
With almost 36 years of practice in Fulton under his belt, he has had plenty of time to learn when not to operate. Parulekar finally retired fully in March this year, and yesterday was the community's chance to bid him farewell.
The courtyard at Callaway Community Hospital bustled with activity as dozens of people streamed in to wish him a happy retirement. Some were patients, some were coworkers, and even one was family, but all considered themselves to be friends.
After training and practicing briefly in St. Louis, Dr. P. came to Fulton and set up practice in September 1976. Though his certification was in general surgery, he soon found the demands of a small town in Callaway County requiring a more family doctor-oriented approach.
"When I first came in 76 I took the place of a general practitioner, John Brown, a family doctor who did lots of surgery," said Parulekar. "That was uncommon in those days, so when I replaced him, a lot of his patients felt that even though I was a surgeon, I should be able to do all the other things that Brown provided like taking care of blood pressure and coughs and colds and diabetes and what have you."
His ability to adapt well to the role of a community family doctor, along with his charming personality, endeared him to his patients and staff through the years to come. Many patients and their families stayed with him for decades. During his years here, Parulekar performed surgeries, treated ailments, saved lives and delivered the babies of babies he had delivered.
"It's been quite a journey," he said. "I have enjoyed working in a small town. A lot of my patients were my friends as well, and a lot of the time I've taken care of two or three generations of people ... I can't hardly think of anybody in the county that I haven't touched in some way or the other."
One such patient is Joyce Wilson, who had been Dr. P's patient since the late "70s. Wilson described Parulekar as "a lot of fun," but more importantly, she notes he saved her life.
"I had colon cancer, and he pushed me until I looked into it," said Wilson of the doctor, who also performed the surgery on her colon. She is in remission now. "He's a friend. He's not just my doctor, he's my friend."