May 27, 2014
By Starla Pointer
Of the News-Register
Anybody have a spare stadium?
Barker has delivered 3,857 babies over four decades. He spent the last three of those decades in McMinnville.
Some months, he had only a few deliveries. Other months, he had up to 20.
Most were single births, but a few babies arrived as twins or triplets. About half were girls, half boys.
Two or three dozen were second-generation — that is, they were born to women he delivered years earlier.
The newcomers entered the world at 3 a.m., noon, midnight, 4:07 and 10:35 — any time of the day or night.
“Babies are pretty unpredictable,” Barker said. “That’s one reason I’m retiring,” he quipped — “to get enough sleep.”
His office at 320 S.E. Baker Street will be the site of his retirement reception running 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 30.
It will be bittersweet, Barker said. “One of the hard things is to say goodbye to my patients,” he said.
At the same time, he’s proud to look back on a rewarding career.
“It’s been great work,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been very meaningful. I’ve been really privileged to work with so many people and provide care.”
A native Oregonian, Barker grew up in Newport. His father, Henry Barker, was a family doctor.
Other relatives on both sides were doctors as well. One of his forefathers served as a surgeon in the Civil War.
“I felt called to the profession,” he said. “My father set a very high standard. I knew what I was getting into.”
As a youngster, he prepared for his future career by delivering newspapers. “Getting up at 5 a.m. to deliver The Oregonian was good practice for being a doctor on call,” he joked.
Barker did his undergraduate studies at Willamette University. There he met Nancy, his future wife. After they married, she worked at KPTV in Portland while he attended the University of Oregon Medical School.
He and Nancy moved to San Jose for a year, where he did an internship, then spent two years in Alaska, where he worked with the Native Health Service. The latter, he said, “was a fantastic experience.”
He flew about a 100,000-square-mile region providing medical care. He encountered a wide range of conditions, including botulism and hepatitis, but didn’t see much cardiac or diabetic problems.
He said Native Alaskans maintained a subsistence lifestyle and were very active, demonstrating the role a tight caloric intake and lots of exercise plays in good health.
While he was in Alaska, he decided he wanted to become an OB/GYN. “So much life potential is involved, from healthy babies to women 80 or 90 years of age,” he said.
Besides, he joked, other specialists send their patients to the hospital to have something fixed or removed. Only the patients of obstetricians leave the hospital with a special prize — a baby.
From Alaska, Barker moved to another Native American Health Service position, this one in Arizona. He spent three years there completing his residency.
Later, he and Nancy moved to Oklahoma to work for the Indian Health Service. As a result, the Barkers’ second child was born in the Sooner State.
When the couple arrived in McMinnville in 1983, the city had a population of about 13,000. But it was growing — a positive sign for an obstetrician.
These days, new doctors often join a clinic or hospital team. Back then, it was common for doctors to open their own practices, so Barker simply hung a shingle.
“I like working consistently with my own staff, being able to set my own office hours, fees and policies,” he said. He said he always had one main goal: “To give the highest standard of care and make care available to those who need it.”
He noted that his staff includes Candi Ranes and Aleta Macken, who have been with him since he first opened his office, and Certified Nurse-Midwife Natasha Lawson, who signed on almost 23 years ago. His original nurse, RN Loraine Arnold, and CNA Beccie Neill, were also long-term employees.
Besides seeing patients in his office, Barker practiced at McMinnville Community Hospital, located where Walgreens now stands.
Since MCH was just a few blocks from his office, he found that driving and parking took more time than walking. “I was occasionally seen running down Baker Street to respond to an urgent call,” he said.
He served as chief of staff at the hospital in 1990-1991, when the decision was made to build a new facility. Willamette Valley Medical Center opened in 1996.
Barker has split his time roughly evenly between the obstetrical and gynecological sides. He has handled the full range of women’s health care, from wellness exams to hysterectomies to birth control.
The latter has improved and increased in variety over the years, and now “patients have incredibly good options.” Many other aspects of medicine have changed and improved over the years as well, he said.
One of the major advancements was the introduction of laparoscopic surgery. Procedures are much easier on patients.
Hysterectomies, for instance, once were major surgeries that meant a three- to five-day hospital stay and lengthy recuperation afterward. Now they can be performed on an outpatient basis.
More alternatives to surgery have been developed as well. Now, some conditions can be managed with an IUD implanted during an office visit, for example.
Barker has kept up with advancements and training over the years using continuing education tapes, CDs and journals. He has attended two or three major conferences a year and monthly meetings of the Portland Society of OB/GYNs.
Barker has to be up on the latest procedures and technology, just as he has to be ready for emergencies, even when he isn’t officially on duty.
He said he takes every midnight call seriously.
“A doctor doesn’t get any unnecessary calls,” he said. “People are really considerate before calling, and when they call, they need to call,” he said.
Barker first met many of his patients six to eight weeks into their first pregnancy.
Since about 2000, he’s had an ultrasound machine in his office, so he can confirm the pregnancy, view the development of the fetus and predict the due date within three to five days.
He can also determine the gender. Most parents-to-be want to know immediately, although a few wait until birth.
Barker isn’t concerned about gender, but he does want to know if the pregnancy is a multiple one. “We don’t like surprises,” he said.
After their initial visit, mothers-to-be usually return about 11 times for checkups and discussions about their needs and preferences for the birth. Barker said he monitors medical conditions, such as diabetes; determines medications and diet; and screens for potential complications with the development of the baby or the impending birth.
He also answers a lot of questions, some of them repeatedly.
That’s OK, he said. “Nothing is routine,” he said. “Each baby is special.”
Pregnancy is a natural course of events, Barker said, but it always has the potential for problems and complications, such as a baby that’s not turned correctly for a head-first arrival.
“We rejoice when things go normally,” he said. “It’s a huge relief once the healthy baby pops out.”
During his early days in McMinnville, it was becoming common for fathers to be present in the delivery room. Now, he said, “The whole family’s there,” with relatives are often texting, posting to Facebook and taking pictures with their cell phones during the process.
It’s the patient’s choice about who can be present, he said. Personally, he thinks the crowd and the cameras detract from the experience, though.
These days, mothers usually remain in the hospital for two or three days after the birth. Years ago, women stayed longer — up to two weeks. But a few years ago, he said, the trend was to send them home as quickly as possible, sometimes after only 12 hours.
He favors longer stays. Mothers need a chance to rest for the hard work that’s coming, he said.
Many women or couples will be on their own with their newborn as soon as they leave the hospital. Not everyone has extended family available to help with the transition.
And our society isn’t much help, either, Barker said. European countries, in contrast, give new families the support they need to get off to a solid start.
Longer stays also give mothers a chance to practice breastfeeding. The doctor encourages mothers to feed their babies naturally, if they can, because it makes for healthier babies and reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother. “Even just a few weeks gives a boost to the baby’s immune system,” he said.
Barker made his final delivery April 21. As he did with the previous 3,846 arrivals, he smiled as he welcomed the infant into the world.
“I rejoice when babies are born into loving families,” he said.
Now he is looking forward to more sleep and spending more time with his wife, to whom he owes his career, he said.
“Nancy made this all possible,” he said. Not only did she work while he was in medical school, but she “was the homemaker, parented our children and held things together” while he was attending patients.
They’re both glad they decided to return to Oregon, and that they picked McMinnville.
“He saw the need here,” Nancy said. “And we’ve been very happy.”
Their children went through the McMinnville school system.
Ed now lives in California, where he is raising the first Barker grandchild. Claire is living in France.
The Barkers plan to visit both after he retires. They also want to do more traveling in Oregon, where they enjoy hiking, boating and Nordic skiing.
Retirement also will allow the doctor more time for another of his passions, playing piano. He enjoys playing classical music, jazz and tangos.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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