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Patient Stories

It’s a family affair

Norman Sylvester, 74, performing on stage and singing into a microphone.

When it’s time for a medical checkup, 74-year old Norman Sylvester considers it much more than a “doctor appointment.” The longtime Portland musician says that heading to The Portland Clinic downtown is like going to see an old friend.

Known widely in music circles as the “Boogie Cat,” the singer and guitarist has played thousands of gigs, clubs and concerts, and has opened for the likes of B.B. King and Tower of Power. In 2011, he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

A passion for music is something that Sylvester shares with his primary care physician, Brian Trafficante, M.D. A big music fan, Dr. Trafficante tries to catch some live music at least once a week. That’s one reason, Sylvester believes, why the two connect as human beings first, and doctor and patient second.

My mother and father really loved the clinic...because of the way everybody was so friendly, and the doctor took time to sit and talk with them about why they were there.

“He is my blues brother,” says Sylvester. “We chat about blues and jazz, and get that out of the way. Then he says something like, ‘Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room.’”

That would be Sylvester’s health, which, aside from a couple of hip replacements, the doctor and patient both agree, is good.

Sylvester’s long connection with The Portland Clinic extends to three generations. As the title song on one of his early albums aptly puts it, “It’s a family affair.” His parents started seeing clinic physicians when he was a youngster, as did several aunts and uncles who lived to advanced ages. More recently, two of Sylvester’s sons started coming to the clinic.

“My mother and father really loved the clinic,” Sylvester recalls, “because of the way everybody was so friendly, and the doctor took time to sit and talk with them about why they were there.”

Sylvester appreciates that, too. While patients elsewhere might see only their doctors’ backs as they enter details into computers, Sylvester says, “You see sincerity in the eyes, not in a person’s back. And sitting for a few minutes, talking with the doctor, relaxes and opens the mind. It means a lot, that personal touch.”

Those words are music to Dr. Trafficante’s ears. “When we connect with our patients, we feel like we’re treating family,” he says. “Getting to know my patients, and in some cases their entire families, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing medicine.”

Over the years, Dr. Trafficante has enjoyed going to clubs to hear Sylvester and his band play. He hopes to have more time to do that, and to stay in touch with his bluesman friend, in his retirement.

Meanwhile, Sylvester has no doubt that he will continue to receive his medical care from The Portland Clinic. “That’s our place,” he says. “It has everything we need in-house. And our doctors there have always been healers, not 9-to-5 guys. It’s our medical clinic.”

While he’ll miss having Dr. Trafficante as his physician, he looks forward to seeing his friend in the audience — because Sylvester has no plans to retire, himself. He intends to keep performing for as long as he can. “B.B. played up until his 90s,” he says, “you know what I’m saying?”

When he plays James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” the Boogie Cat means it — and if the doctor is in the house, they may even exchange a knowing nod.