Next month, for the first time in 106 years, people in West Baltimore and Catonsville won't have a Dr. Knipp to treat their bellyaches and listen to them bellyache.
Dr. Harry L. Knipp is hanging up his stethoscope after 42 years of family practice in an area where his father and grandfather practiced before him.
The 68-year-old general practitioner said his decision to sell his practice and call it quits was a difficult one.
"It's easier to drop dead than to retire," he joked. "This is going to be the longest month of my life. I've already had more hugs than I can handle, and I've already gotten a basket of cards and letters."
Dr. Knipp, known in the neighborhood as Dr. Harry, said advancing arthritis in his hands and knees made work increasingly difficult.
"It was getting physically hard to keep up, making hospital rounds and with the latest developments," he said.
"Besides, I want to smell the roses awhile with my wife, Barbara. I don't intend to be a couch potato. I'm going play some golf and fish and spend more time with our nine grandchildren. I'm also going to get out my accordion and get some practice again."
Also, he said seriously, "It's not so much fun any more. There is so much paperwork and you're always fighting the government about something."
The biggest wrench will be leaving his patients, many of whom he and his father had treated for several generations.
"It's the continuity of care, treating people from the time they're born and then treating their children. I used to ride with my father and then I worked with him. Some people have never been treated by anyone else. That's real medicine. We need more continuity like that," he said.
The Knipps are long on continuity. In fact, Dr. Harry can trace 11 doctors in the family, going back to pre-Revolutionary days.
The current dynasty began when Dr. Harry's grandfather, Harry E. Knipp, graduated from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1887. His father, George A. Knipp, was in the Class of 1923. Dr. Harry followed in 1951.
There is one more Dr. Knipp -- his son, Harry C. Knipp, who graduated in 1976. The youngest Knipp is a radiologist in Westminister.
"My grandfather practiced on Scott Street and on Washington Boulevard in South Baltimore," Dr. Harry recalled. "Then he moved to Fremont Avenue and Lanvale Street. He and my father practiced together there until 1927 and I was born at my grandfather's house."
His father later moved to the 4100 block of Edmondson Avenue, where Dr. Harry grew up. After a stint in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Dr. Harry finished his undergraduate studies at Loyola College, went to the University of Maryland medical school and joined his father in practice on Edmondson Avenue. The senior Dr. Knipp retired in 1964. Dr. Harry remained there until 1977, when he moved to his present office on Old Frederick Road in Catonsville.
In an age of increasing specialization, Dr. Harry remained first and foremost a general practitioner.
He said he originally planned to specialize as an internist, "but I never took the board exam in internal medicine because I would have been prohibited from treating children. I wanted to practice with Dad, so I was eligible but never board certified as an $H internist."
The rules were changed later. But ironically, family medicine developed as its own specialty, and Dr. Harry was a charter member of the American Academy of General Practice, now called the Academy of Family Physicians.
While a specialist sees patients with the same complaints day after day, Dr. Knipp said: "The beauty of family medicine is the mystery of it. It's never boring because you never know what will come through the door next. You see all kinds of stuff."
Sometimes it's frightening. One evening, his Edmondson Avenue waiting room was jammed with patients when a man entered and collapsed on the floor with a grand mal epileptic seizure, he recalled.
"I gave him a Valium injection to stop the convulsion and told his friend to take him to the hospital. As soon as he heard 'hospital,' the guy pulled out a switchblade knife and tried to stab me. I grabbed his arm and the receptionist called the police. The man had a record and he was afraid the police would arrest him if he went to the hospital."
Medicine has changed over the years. While Dr. Harry still makes house calls (and, according to a colleague, once took an elderly patient into his own house when she couldn't care for herself), modern medical techniques and equipment demand that people go to the hospital more often than they once did.
"It would be malpractice if you didn't send them to the hospital," Dr. Knipp said.
But the strong friendships he developed with patients linger in an age of mobility.
"What used to be a neighborhood practice is now cosmopolitan because of the way people move around," he said. "I have people who come from Pennsylvania and the Eastern Shore, even Delaware, just for a regular office visit. I had a woman who used to come from Wilmington and I finally told her she ought to get someone closer," Dr. Knipp said.
Dr. J. Nelson McKay, who has known Dr. Knipp since medical school and who has traded "cover" with him on their days off for 27 years, said family medicine "is like a religion, you're in it for the people. I'm going to miss him, very much."
Plenty of people will miss Dr. Knipp, including Rachel Gibbons, 80, who began as a receptionist with him and his father in 1955 and will now follow him into retirement.
"There are no adjectives to describe him," said Mrs. Gibbons. "He is a family friend, a doctor and a good listener. With Dr. George and Dr. Harry people would say they just felt better when they came in the office."