Rimmele inspired patients at Dartmouth Family Residency

by Judith Phillips | 11/21/01 6:00am

By all accounts, Frederick Rimmele III was a Renaissance man. A doctor, traveler, naturalist, reader, cook and brewer, Rimmele enriched the lives of all those who knew him, and, in turn, was enriched by them.

On Sept. 11, Rimmele boarded United Airlines flight 175 to attend a medical conference on geriatrics in Monterey, Calif. The plane struck the south tower of the World Trade Center later that morning.

Rimmele graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1990. He double-majored in chemistry and medieval literature, rowed crew and edited "Sabrina," the campus humor magazine.

He also edited the humor magazine at Duke University School of Medicine, where he received his doctorate in 1994.

In June of 1994, he entered the Maine-Dartmouth Family Practice Residency and graduated in 1997.

The Maine-Dartmouth Family Residency Program, located in Augusta and Fairfield, Maine, is a three-year post-graduate medical education program affiliated since 1980 with the Deparment of Community and Family Medicine of Dartmouth Medical School.

According to Cathy Morrow, associate director of the Fairfiled clinic where Rimmele completed his residency, the aspiring doctor had an impressive list of extracurricular activities on his rsum: "jogging, ultimate frisbee, camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, cooking, home brewing, photography, aquariums, reading, writing and editing."

After a brief trial of private practice, Rimmele joined the faculty of the Beverly and Hunt Hospitals Family Practice Residency Programs in Danvers, Mass., where he worked as the director until his death.

According to his wife of four years, Kim Trudel, Rimmele opted for family practice medicine because it allowed him to work with a "broad range of cases and treat a broad range of patients. He compared it to a liberal arts education in terms of its depth and breadth."

"He was a very intellectually demanding, curious guy who asked a lot of the whole faculty," Morrow said. "He was hot for conversation, and challenge."

"Many of his fellow residents would call him when unsure of a diagnosis to ask him for suggestions. He would always have other ideas that no one else had thought of," Morrow said.

Rimmele was "one of the funniest guys in the residency. He made us laugh all the time. He had a kind of a wry view of life."

According to Trudel, the residency office staff once gave Rimmele a completed form that required his signature. "He signed the form, and handed it back to them. They said 'Fred, what about a seal?' He said, 'A seal?' They said, 'Yes, it requires one.' He took the form, looked at it, wrote something down, and handed it back. He had drawn a picture of a seal."

"His wit was engaging, intellectual humor, not at anyone's expense. He often drew humorous correlations between literature, art and pop culture," Trudel said.

Rimmele was also quite frank. "He told it like it was and didn't ever try to hide behind niceties. You always knew where you stood with Fred. If he made recommendations, you could count on them. His patients appreciated his sincerity, particularly in a place like Maine, with real independent types," Trudel said.

Rimmele was a devoted doctor who went "the extra mile for people," Morrow recollected. This devotion manifested itself strikingly with a certain patient who was dying of AIDS.

"The patient had a psychiatric illness, along with racist and hateful tattoos, including swastikas," Morrow said. "Fred was on duty when the patient came in. He said to me 'Cathy, I don't know how I'm going to take care of this guy. He's kind of hateful.' I replied, 'somewhere beneath that exterior, there is a frightened man who needs help.'

"Fred went and took fabulous care of him until the day he died. The guy had fired a million doctors before Fred, because he had never found someone who had overlooked what was on the exterior. I'm not sure anyone else in our practice would have done it. Fred learned a lot from him, and this guy became a much kinder person, more open to people."

Rimmele's devotion to Trudel rivaled his devotion to his patients.

Morrow said "when he met Kim [Trudel], he instantly knew that she was the one. He set after her with a vengeance and drove everyone crazy because he wouldn't shut up. We nicknamed him Fred 'I'm in love' Rimmele. He would walk around dreamy and say, 'Hey, have I told you I'm in love?'

"When you're a resident, you have 36-hour shifts, at the end of which you really want to get out. Your worst fear is that you will get a call from the emergency room. Fred paged Lisa (a colleague) to the emergency room at 4 p.m. She called with dread, and he said, 'Hey, have I told you I'm in love?'"

Trudel fondly recalled that "every morning he'd wake up and let me know that he adored me, and I would tell him that I cherished him. He was indeed smitten. We just had so much fun together."

On a hiking trip, the two were introduced by mutual friends.

"Fred was very athletic. He was well known for being the leader of the pack in everything that he did, including hiking. I go kind of slow; I look at the flowers and the trees.

"Fred was way ahead of everyone, and I was hanging way at the back. Then someone noticed that Fred has started to slow down. Soon, he met up with the front of the pack, was then hiking in the middle, and then with me. He took off his shirt. He commented that I had small feet. I said that afterwards I would take off my shoes and he could give me a foot massage and see just how small they were."

The two enjoyed travelling and bird watching, among many other things.

Trudel recalled Rimmele's demeanor on the morning of Sept. 11. "He was very excited about the trip to California. The night before he left, we had a special dinner because he was going to be gone for a week, which was a long time for us to be apart. We had wine, candlelight, and then we went out for a nice walk.

"He was so enthusiastic about the conference. He got all of his clothes out and woke up 20 minutes before the alarm went off. He kept saying, 'we don't want to be late.' That's how I remember him, that enthusiasm."

Trudel has received letters from hundreds of Rimmele's patients, in which the themes of kindness and compassion recur.

"One guy wrote that he never had faith in doctors until he met my husband. He said that he carried his business card in wallet, and a little part of him in his heart."

Family and friends are setting up a memorial garden in Rimmele's honor at the Maine-Dartmouth residency. Donations can be sent to:

Maine Dartmouth FP, c/o Fred Rimmele Memorial Garden, 4 Sheridan Drive, Fairfield, ME 04937.