It's pretty much a daily occurrence to see retired veterinarian, conservationist and entrepreneur Tag Gornall at the old Minglement Coffee Roasterie on Vashon Island, settling to drink a cup of tea, read the newspaper, catch up with an old friend, or crack a few jokes – usually at his own expense. He’s one of those rare individuals who finds humor in almost every experience, simply feeling grateful for each day. And with good reason.
Tag’s daily life could have turned out quite differently had it not been for the efforts of several Polyclinic physicians over the years. Outgoing and articulate at 68 with a ready smile for everyone, Tag has faced numerous health issues – some life threatening, some just bothersome – and he's depended on the primary care physicians and specialists here to help him hold on to his quality of life.
His first primary care physician at The Polyclinic was the late Dr. Henry Polin, a devoted internist at the clinic for many years whom Tag credits with saving his life, all due to his keen ability to observe, deduce and persist.
“Henry was a delightful, brilliant physician who recognized that something was off with me. I was having abdominal issues, and we started with a gall bladder ultrasound but it didn't indicate a problem. But Henry just knew something was wrong and ran another test, telling me to wait right there for the results,” explained Tag. It turned out he had a gangrenous gallbladder. “Had my doctor not made the extra effort, I would have died that night – which would have been quite off-putting at the dinner party I was planning to attend,” he recalled with a smile.
When Dr. Polin passed away in 2005, Tag switched his primary care to Dr. John Stimson who “picked up the torch and orchestrated my care,” said Tag. He has much praise for Dr. Stimson's office staff, whom he calls “tremendously supportive and wonderful,” having seen him through a series of serious issues.
One such event occurred when Tag was being bothered by prior spine and neck damage – or so he thought. On Memorial Day of 2004 when he experienced pain in his arm, he though it was probably just related to his neck injury, but he called the Polyclinic doctor who was on call that holiday just the same. After a conversation, the doctor directed him to call 911 and he was brought to Swedish's emergency room from the island – turned out he had 85% blockage of his coronary arteries. Yet another life-saving decision Tag credits to a Polyclinic doctor.
Tag has needed a number of surgeries in recent years, including stents to assist in blood flow, a hernia repair and two knee surgeries. “I'll never forget after my first surgery, I was able to get up and around the very next day, so I took a walk down the hall,” explained Tag. “When I turned back around I saw my doctor was coming to visit me, only he walked into my room and no one was there. He had this panicked look, but I got his attention and waved so he'd know I was not only alive, but up and around. It's moments like that where you realize they really do care about you as a person.”
“In each instance my doctors have been wonderful and have been very perceptive and willing to listen. When I taught veterinary students, I always said 'you have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Use them in the same proportions.’ I have to credit my physicians at The Polyclinic with understanding that concept.”
Tag developed his own ability to detect subtle clues not only as a veterinarian, relying on an animals behavior and body movements to identify problems, but also from being brought up in a home where both parents were deaf. “Interpreting non-verbal signs applies to all species, whether animal or human, and having a physician who is looking at the whole person is a real skill. It's also one of the advantages of having doctors who've known you for a long time. I've been here enough to realize that these doctors actually stay in touch with each other; they not only all have access to my records – they read the darn things.”
Tag owned several veterinary clinics and was the director of the Marine Animal Resource Center based in Seattle, and he's spent his whole career working to rescue, heal, study and rehabilitate marine mammals. Although now retired from his veterinary career, Tag has turned his efforts to supporting his community of Vashon Island in both business and volunteer work, currently as the owner of Island Media, president of Island GreenTech, and vice president of Vashon Electric Vehicle Association – organizations devoted to bettering the community. Tag sees these projects as his chance to “give back,” as he describes it, for all the blessings in his life.