The Pediatrician of Us All

The Pediatrician of Us All

    Doctor Rinaldo De Lamare’s A Vida do
    Bebê sold approximately
    6 million copies in Brazil, more
    than any other
    book written by a Brazilian author.

    Alessandra Dalevi

    He spent his life taking care of other peoples babies. He even wrote the Brazilian bible on tending to infants,
    A Vida do Bebë (The Baby’s Life). First released in 1941, the book had its
    41st edition— expanded and updated by the
    author—published last year. Despite all his hands-on work with tots, Dr. Rinaldo De Lamare confessed recently that he never changed a
    soiled diaper. "In 1950, any man who would this would be ridiculed," he commented. "As for me, I didn’t do it just because I
    didn’t have the time."

    His death at age 92, on April 28, at his home in Rio—he hated hospitals—was not front page material and most
    Brazilian papers buried the news in an obscure section of an internal page, but those who heard about his passing could not help
    but feel that someone from their family had gone, someone like a dear grandpa or old godfather, someone who knew the
    answer when a little baby started to scream in the middle of the night or a fever won’t go down. De Lamare was in bed since
    September of last year when he had a stroke.

    A Vida do Bebê sold 5 million copies or 6.5 million according to another version. Any figure you accept the book
    comes as the all-time champion among Brazilian books sold in Brazil.
    Capitães de Areia by Jorge Amado, a novel first
    published in 1937, comes in second with 74 editions and 4.5 million copies sold.
    (O Alquimista by Paulo Coelho, first published in
    1988, has already sold more than 11 millions copies, but this includes editions in dozen of countries. Coelho has sold 8 million
    copies in Brazil of his 12 books.)

    Born in Santos (state of São Paulo) in January 2, 1910, young Rinaldo went to Rio when he was 16 to study medicine
    at Universidade do Brasil, known today as Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. "At that time, youngsters would
    choose between three careers-engineering, law, medicine," he said two years ago. "I chose the profession that fascinated me the
    most." De Lamare was only 22 when he opened his first clinic in Madureira, a poor Rio suburb and soon he would be seeing up
    to 100 children a day. He stayed there for eight years.

    Diarrhea being the main cause of child mortality, the doctor
    introduced a simple recipe to help parents save their kids: a serum made with a tea spoon of salt and dessert spoon of sugar added
    to filtered water. The home medication, which is still used in poor communities in Brazil today, wasn’t well received by
    other doctors, according to De Lamare. "Doctors got paid a 20 percent commission from the pharmacist for the prescriptions
    sold. The more syrup they gave children, the better for their pockets." Due to his unorthodox approach his clients used to
    consider him more a shaman or medicine man than a doctor.

    "There were neither antibiotics nor vaccine at that time and every month we had lots of cases of contagious diseases
    such as measles, chicken pox, whooping cough," the doctor recalled. There were also cases of polio and meningitis. "It was
    wonderful when a polio vaccine was discovered in 1953 because it was too distressing to tell a mother that her child had infantile paralysis
    and not a cold."

    In 1940, the busy doctor moved his office to Avenida Nilo Peçanha, in downtown Rio, and suddenly he had plenty
    of time in his hands and very few patients. It would take him three years to form a new clientele. That gave him the idea to
    use the free time to write a book on caring for babies. De Lamare was inspired by
    Guia das Mães (Mothers’Guide), a book
    written by Brazilian pediatrician Germano Wittock.

    The good doctor moved his clinic to Copabacana, in the affluent south of Rio, in the ’50s. There he would amass an
    archive of more than 60000 patients. In 1964, De Lamare was invited by the military regime that took over the country that year to
    head the federal Departamento Nacional da Criança (National Child Department). He stayed in that post until 1968.

    Upon visiting extremely poor families in the Northeast, which had in average six kids, the pediatrician proposed a
    federal family planning that would limit to two per couple the number of kids allowed. The military nixed the idea alleging that
    they didn’t want to face neither the Catholic Church nor the Army brass who favored a larger population to occupy Brazilian
    extensive frontiers.

    When offered the job of Health Minister by president Costa e Silva he declined saying he didn’t feel prepared for
    that challenge. He took care of the grandchildren of three military presidents: General Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco,
    General Arthur da Costa e Silva and General Emílio Garrastazu Médici.

    A Vida do Bebê is divided in chapters showing month to month how infants are to be dealt with in that phase of
    their lives. De Lamare made significant changes to his book after reading American Benjamin Spock’s (1903-1998)
    The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care
    (Meu Filho, Meu Tesouro—My Child, My Treasure, in Brazil) from 1946. The
    Brazilian doctor abandoned the authoritarian German view on child rearing in favor of a more open approach in which children’s
    wills were taken into account.

    Unlike Spock who made few alterations to his original work, De Lamare kept updating his book every four years. In
    child rearing he was in favor of discipline, but also flexibility. "Today we know that freedom in excess does not bring good
    results to the human being. It’s wise the phrase of the Latin revolutionary: "Hay que endurecerse, pero sin perder la ternura
    jamás — One must get tough without losing tenderness ever," he used to say citing Argentinean Ernesto Che Guevara.

    He only stopped seeing kids in his office after he had the first of five bypass surgeries, in 1985. By then he was
    already 75. The doctor was 81 when he was chosen to preside the Academia Nacional de Medicina. De Lamara was also
    president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Pediatria in 1948 and 1949 and titular professor at Rio’s PUC (Pontifícia Universidade
    Católica—Pontifical Catholic University).

    De Lamare has also had his detractors. Many consider his advice out of step with today’s world. He used to accept
    the criticism with a dose of humor and irony. "I know I’m old," he told interviewers more than once. "I’m a pediatrician from
    the 20th century, that is, the past century.

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