The Drs. Beernink: a personal reminiscence

Alta Gerrey
Saturday April 16, 2016 - 03:48:00 PM

Dr. F. Beernink & Dr. H. Beernink, twins who were born in Europe and moved to California to practice medicine, became expert in difficult situations and saved many mothers and babies. Dr. H. pioneered Natural Childbirth with the Lamaze Method. He also managed to get smoking forbidden at Alta Bates Hospital. Dr. F. specialized in fertility treatments, enabling couples to have children. 

At my first appointment, I had not yet learned to tell them apart, so I can’t say which doctor I saw, but I remember this part: 

He asked, “Why are you overweight?” 

I replied, “Because I eat too much.” 

He jumped up, “Wait right there!” He came back with the receptionist & requested that I give the same reply to the same question. He asked again, I replied again, & the woman clapped her hands & said to me, “You’re the first patient to say that.” 

After many visits, I could tell them apart & often requested Dr. H. if I had questions. He gave more nuanced explanations, and seemed more patient with my concerns. 

Of course, I also loved Dr. F. & his energy & bounce. 

Around 1978 or so, a receptionist asked how I could tell them apart. She said, “We WORK here, & we can’t tell!” 

I explained, “Dr. H. has a small scar under his chin. He also gives more information in his answers.” The women looked confused. “Also,” I continued, “I feel more comfortable with men who wear their wedding ring.” 

One of them shook her head. “We never thought of it.” 

This is from my husband Danny; we are no longer together, but on good terms, so here’s his recollection of the marvelous Drs. B. 

“I remember them well. One of them sang, the other one whistled. During our daughter’s birth, Dr. H hummed “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat.” 

In my late thirties, I experienced difficulty with uterine fibroids. The Beerninks recommended surgery. It was the height of the Women’s Movement, and women were accusing doctors of wanting to take away our essential parts. When I sought a second opinion from a woman doctor in Oakland, she found out Drs. Beernink were my physicians. “Why are you here?” she asked. 

“Second opinion,” I replied. 

“You’ve got the Beerninks! They’re the best! Do whatever they say!” 

After surgery, I called to speak to Dr. H. I asked for him, & told the receptionist my name. 

“You can’t be Alta,” she said. “She’s in surgery.” 

“Right. I just had surgery. I need to speak to Dr. H.” 

“You can’t be Alta!” she sounded agitated, “She’s in the hospital!” 

“I’m calling from the hospital.” 

“That’s not possible!” she snapped. 

“Will you PLEASE let me speak to Dr. H?” 

Thank God the next voice was his. “Yes, Alta?” 

“There’s a nurse here who wants to stick a needle in me. I’m saying no. She says it’s doctor’s orders & she won’t go away." 

Dr. H. explained, “We can’t let you get dehydrated. It’s a saline solution; you need it.” 

“Can’t I just drink water?” 

“You won’t be able to, so soon after surgery.” 

“I’ve been drinking water,” I assured him. “Plus, sucking ice.” 

“You have?” he sounded surprised. Then he suggested, “We could keep track of your urine, and that would show if you’re dehydrated. But if that happens, you do have to have intravenous. Do you agree?" 

“Ok! Let’s do that! Please tell the nurse that.” I handed her the phone. 

She was suspicious, “How do I know you’re the doctor?” He told her whatever would identify him, then suggested she call his office to verify. She seemed upset, but she did go away. 

After my hysterectomy, I brought a bouquet of flowers to Dr. H. His associate Dr. Chinn saw the flowers & said “He EARNED those!” 

Years later, another problem developed. I consulted Dr. H., & had a meltdown in his office. I called later to apologize. His receptionist was sympathetic. “Oh, don’t worry; he didn’t even mention it.” 

“I took up so much of his time!” 

“That’s fine. You’re one of his favorites. I’m sure he didn’t mind.” 

These dedicated, brilliant physicians are gone. They each delivered over 10,000 babies & saved many lives. They have passed on, both from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. They were born twins, practiced medicine together for decades, and died within a month of each other. 

Thank God for Drs. B.