The Good Doc

Memories of Harvey Hecht by Elena

Harvey was my friend.  He was also my Doctor.  

We met in the Perpetual Stew in the Powerhouse in Tomales Bay. Tomales, The Founder and Betty’s Home, was our Research and Development center and The Academy.

Harvey felt familiar from the start, reminding me of the Jewish Middle-Class Professionals with whom I grew up.  As an Academy student on a Cubic Day, I felt it my duty, to show him what this place was all about.  Full of myself and loudly pontificating, a wiser Elder took a seat in the circle.

“What have you ever accomplished? This man is a DOCTOR and worth ten of you. Let’s hear why he moved into this crazy house before you chase him out the door.”

Red-faced and silenced I listened to Harvey introduce himself to the circle of about 20 Stewers, explaining why he moved his family into Synanon. 

He wanted to practice a new kind of medicine, and raise his children in a safe environment.  He wanted to live with a variety of people and be in a place where he could speak his mind, have some leisure time, and laughs.  He did not see himself moving in that direction till he found Synanon.

The Game was the tip of the iceberg.  We lived the larger majority of our lives Out of the Game.

The harder you engaged in the Game the closer you grew out of the Game.  It was de rigueur to seek those with whom you played the hardest, for coffee and social time in a new light, and after Game Glow. 

The Game made it possible to know each other in cascading layers of intimacy, forgiveness, and empathy.  Secrets were peeled away, trust built.

It was easy to be kind to each other when we knew we could always sort it out in a Game and that our own Out of the Game behavior would be mirrored back to us.

Out of the Game Synanon, was the most civil place I ever lived.

It is the thread that weaves and ties many of us together across the country today over thirty years since Synanon officially ended and we scattered to the four winds.  Many of us have found each other, many stayed in touch and continue to weave the quilt and continue the story.

Harvey and I became fast friends, both in and out of the Game, joking and jibing creating a family connection through our twenty-plus years living in Community.

He was known for his terrible jokes and equally terrible bedside manner.  None of the calm gentleness that characterized our other docs and our beautiful female dentist Heather.  But

Harvey was a straight talker and you always knew where stood.  You could push back but at a certain point he would say,

“OK, We are done here.”

Harvey married well. Both times. Joining Synanon with his wife Sylvia, he Changed Partners and Danced as we all did in 1977.  In a community graced by many strong and beautiful women, Sheila was top drawer.  A lovely leggy Shiksa with flawless Irish skin, she could give as good as she got, bringing her considerable business skills and people skills into the marriage.

We called our unions Love Matches and “Add On” marriage.  Our families simply grew bigger and more inclusive as we folded in our former spouses, their children, and grandchildren into our circles.


Harvey often fell asleep in Long Games, Stews, Reaches, and Meetings.  While not a crime, it bordered on a misdemeanor. We would often yell at an offender busted snoring,

“Hey, WAKE UP!”

 Or more often

“Wake the Fuck up, Deadbeat”

Harvey circulated the rumor that he had Narcolepsy. He got a pass, or a more gentle wake up, or he was sent home to bed.  I have since wondered how he could get through Med school with Narcolepsy, a disease that causes you to fall asleep at odd times uncontrollably.  Recently I surmised that he came up with a brilliant plan to avoid some of the deadly boring aspects of community by throwing out a medical term no one really understood.

Harvey brimmed over with goodwill thinly crusted with a no-bullshit cynicism.  He loved to laugh and told really bad jokes.  The more we groaned, the more he enjoyed it.  He thought he was a hoot.

Even before the Fatathon, Harvey was a proponent of broth and bran, a concoction to be consumed before our lavish Home Place feasts.  He believed fiber created a healthy gut and that broth and bran combo was filling, thus good for those of us needing to lose weight.  Through our years as doctor and patient, he began each visit with,

“How much fiber are you getting? Are you still eating Bran?”

When we spilled down the hill from Badger in the Synanon diaspora, the Broslovsky’s and the Hecht’s landed in the same neighborhood in Visalia, a strange new world.  There were about 30 other Synanonites in the area.  Most adapted readily continuing with our professions and getting involved in service and artistic organizations, serving on Boards, raising funds.  Many becoming good Rotarians. We remained connected as we branched into this new community.  Soon we were woven into the cloth of Visalia California, the last place I would have imagined landing.  I made the most of it, having opportunities to perform in and write plays, I competed in equestrian events and attended Wine Tastings.  Sheila’s friendship and proximity was a blessing.  I took care of their well-loved, poorly trained dogs when they traveled. 

We enjoyed laughing at Harvey when he flapped his wings and harumphed at her. It rolled off her like she had been RainXed.  She gave him “The Look” with her hands on her waist and he sputtered to a stop.

They hosted inclusive neighborhood BBQs and parties in their backyard.  Our friends became their friends and the sense of family lived on without the Game.  But we seemed to share a gnawing secret about how it could have been… if only…

The main thing about Harvey was that he was such a good doctor.  He really listened and left no stone unturned to find solutions.  Not only did I have complete trust in his medical knowledge but he knew me inside and out, mentally and physically, and kept my medical files from the time I was 19 years old.  He knew me as a friend and patient for over 20 years.  I had complete security we would get the best care and options available.

His office staff saw through his gruff exterior and adored him.  They greeted me like extended family and confided how much they enjoyed hearing the laughter and arguing in the exam room when we came for our checkups.

“Internet Medicine” became the bane of his existence in the 1980s.  I remember ‘researching’ what I thought was my problem and parading into his office with what Dr. Google said was the diagnosis.

Patiently he rolled his huge eyes tilting his ear to his shoulder.

“UH -huh,” and “Where did you get this brilliant information….?”

He would then solve my aches and pains and say

“We are done here.” As he moved on to his next patient.

When we moved to Santa Cruz and Harvey and Sheila moved to the San Diego area they continued to live the good life among friends  They traveled, enjoyed Grandchildren and the pleasures of a life well-lived, till his health began to fail.  I learned that Adrienne, who had walked to grammar school with him in Detroit and then became one of his poker buddies when they met again in Synanon, was one of many friends and family who flocked to his bedside when he returned from the hospital.  Full of the love that surrounded him but tired of the pain, he asked to be unplugged.

In control and practical as ever, he simply said “We are done here.”

One response to “The Good Doc”

  1. Thank you for this Ellen. It was well written and an excellent glance at a great guy. The memories keep coming. We were so blessed to have the very best of all the professions.

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