She was a chef, manicurist, bookkeeper, wife, mother and gifted church organist, but it was her later-in-life decision to become a physician that got to the heart of what Mary Ann Erickson was all about: a warm and tireless healer who knew that listening and empathy were every bit as important as a stethoscope in treating her patients.
Clinica Sierra Vista’s Kern Valley Medical Center, where Dr. Erickson practiced for 14 years, has been flooded with calls of condolence and loss since the doctor’s Nov. 1 death after a brief illness.
Dr. Erickson, 75, leaves behind two daughters, Patricia and Elizabeth; a poodle, Chloe; cat, Beauty; and countless friends, neighbors and patients.
But Dr. Erickson also leaves behind a legacy of trust, devotion and exceptional clinical care for her staff to emulate at Clinica’s Lake Isabella health center. As we struggle to make sense of her death, we recognize that she set an incredibly high bar for us to meet. Our promise to our Kern River Valley patients is to honor Dr. Erickson by following her example. She would have it no other way.
Dr. Erickson was the poster child for second chapters. At an age when most of us are dreaming of retirement, and with her daughters grown, she decided to go to medical school. During her residency, she lost her husband but kept going, with a renewed purpose to serve — and serve she did.
Every so often, a patient walks through the door who breaks your heart. That happened to Dr. Erickson a year ago, when she was treating a down-and-out young mother whose newborn was sick. Dr. Erickson helped organize a donation effort — to which she gave generously from her own pocket — to buy Christmas gifts and food for the struggling family. And then there was the time a troubled young woman arrived at the health center threatening suicide. Dr. Erickson remained calm and in control of the situation, soothing the young woman and getting her the help she needed.
As a boss, Dr. Erickson always looked for ways to celebrate her staff. For occasions like a baby shower, she would put in “an unreasonable amount of money,” according to her office manager, to make sure the employee received a nice gift, and she gave every staffer a Christmas gift and card.
The loss of a figure so central and essential in such a tight-knit community is palpable. The staff and patients are doing their best, but the tears are still close to the surface. A trip to the grocery store can be upsetting for office manager Joanne Davidge, who can’t get down the aisle without being swarmed with hugs and expressions of sympathy. The folks at Optimal Hospice — whose families the doctor treated — have offered grief counseling.
Davidge remembers the last visit she paid to the doctor.
“She was semi-comatose. I put my face in hers, she looked at me and smiled. She said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I have these flowers from a patient that I wanted to run by.’ When it came time for me to leave, she looked me in the face and told me how much she loved me. She blew me a kiss goodbye.”
Davidge reports that her staff and the community will get through the loss the only way they know how: together.
Meanwhile, the clinic is still open, treating the patients Dr. Erickson spent years listening to, worrying over and caring for. Our commitment to her memory is to keep doing it.
A celebration of Dr. Erickson’s life will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mountain Mesa. The community is welcome.