Ryan Summerlin January 12, 2007
Dr. David Denton Davis once received a call on Christmas Day from the Hotel Jerome in Aspen asking him to come soon; Mr. Smith’s family chef was ill. Mr. Smith and his wife stay at the Jerome, but his extended family and friends all stay at a rented home in Buttermilk. Davis wife and business partner, Cynnea, insisted on coming, promising to stay in the car and read a book while the good doctor took care of his patients. “After seeing the chef, the butler asked if I’d mind seeing Mr. Smith, so I did,” Davis said. “After seeing him, he said, ‘Doc, can I get you anything?’ I said, ‘no thank you, I should get going – my wife’s in the car.’ Mr. Smith said, “What kind of a man are you, leaving your wife in the car! Get Mrs. Davis out of the car.’ He gave her a big hug and said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re married to such a mean man. Is there anything I can do for you?’ She asked for a photo with him for her nephew Alex. (Mr. Smith) was just very gracious, and his wife was adorable, too.”Mr. Smith, it turned out, was none other than multimedia superstar Will Smith, who was vacationing in Aspen over the holidays with his family.Davis is a veteran emergency physician based in the Vail Valley; though now a permanent resident, he’s been a second home owner since “before the Gondola fell,” and since 2000 he’s run ResortMed, a unique house-call service that caters to guests in the Valley who prefer medicine come to them. By forming tight relationships with local hotels and lodges, ResortMed is the go-to service for a certain set of ill or injured visitors in the valley – they’ve expanded to cover both Aspen and Summit counties, and Denton and his fellow doctors have plans to offer services in other vacation hotspots in California, Florida and Las Vegas. But trends with the wealthy often trickle down to the mainstream, and Davis’ specialization, along with advances in mobile medical technology and a growing discontent with big, “take-a-number” HMO medical care, may signal a wider future shift toward house-call medicine for everyone.
In 2000, Davis worked as an emergency physician in San Diego, but a sick cat inspired him to revive the art of the house call. Because of a major October snowstorm, Davis could not fly out to San Diego. At the same time, his wife called mobile veterinarian Sheila Fitzpatrick to take care of their ill cat – and when she arrived to administer care to the ailing feline, the bolt of lightning struck.”The hospital asked when I might be able to fly out, and I said June or July,” Davis said. “After 35 years of emergency medicine, I was worn out. I told my wife, ‘I want to open up a house-call service like Dr. Sheila. My wife said, ‘What do you know about cats?'” Davis immediately began laying the ground for ResortMed, which included hiring very specific types of doctors who possessed solid emergency credentials but also comfortable bedside manner. Davis, who began his career as a Navy doctor during Vietnam with the 6th Destroyer Division, helped found the American College of Emergency Physicians, and he possesses the looks and genial, disarming humor of George Carlin (minus the potty mouth). ResortMed now employs eight Vail-area doctors and four more in the Aspen area, and their 24/7 service hits the road in three specialized Jeeps. Far from the classical house-call doctor’s black bag, these Jeeps come armed with everything an emergency doctor needs, including IV fluids, meds, oxygen and even a hyperbaric chamber, when necessary.”We can distinguish between what is routine and what is truly an emergency – with our equipment and training, chances are good we can handle 99 percent of problems in a hotel room or home,” Davis said. “It’s a dramatic shift when you think about it. A guest comes to the valley, and they spend a lot money to be in a resort property. The idea of replacing those moments with a hospital stay or time in a waiting room is not good. This is a good substitution. The idea of watching TV in their comfortable hotel room when the doctor comes to them became very appealing once guests became aware that the service exists.”ResortMed quickly became a must-have service for house calls at high-end properties like the Ritz Carlton, Park Hyatt, Vail Cascade, Sonnenalp Lodge and Cordillera. Still, Davis wasn’t quite aware he’d come face-to-face with the cream of America’s vacationing crop.
“I knew celebrities came to town, but I figured they had their own doctors,” Davis said. “But they don’t necessarily have them, so the hotel wants to accommodate them. They don’t want to lose revenue, and suddenly we realized we were playing an integral role. We started being called for more interesting people, people who exist at the outermost end of the spectrum. The door opens, and it’s like ‘you’re Prime Minister John Major,’ or it’s Katie Couric, Kate Hudson or David Hasselhoff – many come with big families. It’s a selective population, but it’s also something I don’t think the Vail Valley can exist without.”As his house-call service has grown, Davis has picked up a few fantastic stories – not to mention a couple of perks. While treating a very sick guest the night after the Oscars, Dr. Davis lamented to this Hollywood player that he was disappointed Bono had lost the award for Best Song to Eminem. The guest, who had actually been at the Oscars, replied that she felt badly, too – but not all was lost, as she represented both Bono and Eminem.”I said, ‘You represent Bono and Eminem?'” Davis said. “‘I’d love to meet Bono.’ Then she said, ‘Bono, would you come here?’ And here he came, from another section of the suite; he’d come after the Oscars as well to vacation with her. He was just a very sweet man.”But ritz n’ glitz aside, the possibility for house calls to spread to the populace at large is a very real one; ResortMed may be on the cutting-edge of a home-medicine trend that could soon show up on our doorsteps as well.”These people often come to the valley under assumed names – they’re prime ministers, movie stars, world famous athletes, and they don’t like to hang out in the emergency room,” Davis said. “But people (in general) don’t want to hang out in a clinic, and doctors aren’t growing to solve that. Overcrowding is an issue, and it seems to be getting worse. Children with minor problems are being forced to wait, and for a parent, that often means you have to keep the other two (kids) in the hospital setting as well. Patients need to be placed first at all times, and we offer a comprehensive, hands-on service where we are the secretary, nurse and doctor all rolled into one – we hold their hands for an hour when they need it. The whole concept is something everyone’s going to talk about in the next ten years.”
In addition to ushering in the new era of the house call, Davis also specializes in treating altitude sickness, which can be more severe than the typical mild dizziness, shortness of breath and headaches you hear about. According to Davis, who publishes an AMS (acute mountain sickness) awareness pamphlet that gets distributed to local properties and the media nationwide, one out of four visitors to elevations above 8,000 feet experiences AMS, and though typical symptoms include nausea, headaches and insomnia, the disease has the potential to be fatal.”We hear, ‘all you need is to drink water and take Motrin,’ but oxygen is actually the treatment of choice,” Davis said. “In extreme cases, 8-14 hours in a hyperbaric chamber can restore even people with a history of altitude sickness. We’ve had brides miss the wedding while being hospitalized with altitude sickness. But a little bit of information can go a long way; most of the time severe symptoms can be prevented with planning and the availability of oxygen.”Even the rich and famous can fall prey to AMS, as Tony Bennett did just before his performance at Jazz Aspen in 2002. While tending to a child’s earache at the Little Nell, Davis was asked to visit another patient, and Tony Bennett answered the door in his bathrobe. He was suffering from altitude sickness and concerned about his upcoming performance.”After about 45 minutes of oxygen, he said, ‘Yo Doc, I’m feeling better; do you feel like hearing a joke?'” Davis said. “He spent the next hour-and-a-half telling jokes. Eventually, his daughter came in and said, ‘Dad, the doctor needs to go.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t!’ He was a sweetheart of a man, 80 years old and still going strong.”Though services like ResortMed may crop up for regular Joes and Janes in the valley in the future, in the meantime Dr. Davis will likely add to his reportoire of fame-kissed clients and stories as his company expands to new and glamorous locations.
“Any doctor wants to do something that’s unique,” Davis said. “Every day can be a very interesting day – you never know what’s behind the door.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado