For almost two decades, women in the Gunnison Valley have turned to a health care provider concerned with more than just annual exams and test results. They’ve put their trust in a specialty physician concerned with the whole patient, and known for his kindness, respectfulness and a genuine concern for wellbeing.
But this spring, a global pandemic forced the hand of local obstetrician and gynecologist Tim Bonney, who was already considering retirement. With risk factors for COVID-19, Bonney decided to close his practice and focus on the next chapter of his life.
“I'm still in denial that Dr. Bonney retired. He was more than a doctor and over the years became a coach and trusted ally for my whole health. He always had us meet one on one in his office after an exam, which always felt so respectful and created a level space for me to speak honestly,” said former patient Delaney Keating. “Looking back it, he is the most human relationship I've had with any doctor.”
Bonney recently made the announcement, wishing there could have been some other way to wrap up his medical career and bid goodbye to his patients, many of whom he has considered friends.
Originally from Boston, Bonney graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) Health Science Center at Stony Brook in 1984, and built a bustling practice in Islip, Long Island. But weary from the fast paced life of the East Coast, he and his wife Terry set out west to the mountains to ski. They came upon Gunnison and set down roots in 2002. Very few specialist doctors were practicing in the Gunnison Valley at the time, so Bonney met with the head of Gunnison Valley Hospital and set up shop.
“We fell in love with it here, just like everyone else,” Bonney recalled.
Perhaps the hallmark of Bonney’s care has been not just the exam, but the time spent with patients following it. Typically, he scheduled about 30 minutes to not only discuss a patient's medical complaints, but to find out more about their life and how it was impacting them physically.
“That’s where it really happens — the exam is the prelude,” said Bonney. “Where people loosen up is where they talk about other problems that they have. I would pick up the ball and help them usher through their problems in general.”
Bonney said despite having a specialty practice, he saw his role as providing holistic care — especially in a small community. But caring for his patients so deeply meant that having to suddenly close was all that much more painful. Rather than saying goodbye to patients and helping them transition to another practitioner, he simply had to shut the door.
“I was uprooted without making the decision myself, but it wasn’t logical to wait. I didn’t think this would be over soon,” Bonney said of the COVID-19 pandemic and his decision to close. “This is not the way I would do it. There are all these people I care about and I couldn’t wrap it up.”
Embodying the ‘oath’
Former assistant Kim Eastman worked with Bonney for his entire tenure in Gunnison. What she admired most about him was how he handled his patients with integrity and honesty.
“He was straightforward — there was no beating around the bush or unnecessary tests,” she said. “And he was a good physician for women who would listen to us, not brush us off. He got it.”
Eastman said Bonney demonstrated great respect toward her, teaching her about medicine, answering her questions and indulging her curiosity. She said she felt empowered to offer her opinion and that her intuition was honored by him.
Additionally she saw the caring side of Bonney in delicate situations that required kindness and gentleness, such as in the case of, say, a miscarriage.
“He was always very sincere and gentle and sometimes would have tears in his eyes,” Eastman said. “He wasn’t just the white coat and the doctorate degree. He lived that hippocratic oath — lived and exemplified it.”
Bonney is unsure what his next chapter looks like. For right now, he is protecting his health and keeping busy at home. The Bonneys care for rescue animals of all sizes at their Safe Harbor Ranch. He fixes the fences, while his wife cares for the animals more and more.
And there is one other outlet the good doctor has used to fill his time since he can’t run off to the Bahamas during a pandemic. His staff purchased a Playstation 4 for him — he said it's his way of recuperating until he determines next steps.
Until that happens, Bonney reflected upon the years and the patients, and his thankfulness for the mission he carried out.
“Thank you so much for entrusting your lives under my care,” he said, with a message aimed at the broader community. “It’s the greatest gift. I wish I could continue doing that , but thank you.”
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at email@example.com.)