Doctors’ office walls most often display multiple diplomas, side-by-side with foreboding charts of the human anatomy. Not so for Dr. Joaquin Fernandez, 46, a Miami podiatrist and surgeon whose inherent love of history transcends what patients may expect of idle conversations that occur during treatments.
“Life is where it takes you,” he laughs when asked why his SW 57th Avenue office walls are crowded with framed photos, baseball memorabilia and historic clippings — almost all gifts of his patients, each leading to a story or historic memory.
“When I opened up my office 15 years ago, it needed repainting. My wife said I should hang the original painting of a tree, the work of my very close friend, Luis Apoyamas Cariles, a Cuban patriot.
“Later, patients would begin bringing me historic pictures and other things that really belong on a wall for display — important memories of their own. So I began putting them up on the office walls.
“Why? Well, that is where life takes you.”
An eight by 10 black and white photo of writer Ernest Hemingway, standing beside a giant marlin fished from Caribbean waters, overlooks a patient treatment chair.
“It was taken when ‘Papa’ was involved with The Old Man and the Sea motion picture shooting,” Dr. Fernandez explained. “Other pictures, just like it, hang in Sloppy Joe’s in Havana — just different fish.”
For every framed picture or object (a box that once held Cuban cigars, a cuckoo clock or signed photo from President George Bush), there’s a story to go with it.
His Cuban childhood memories include a blown-up photo of the Oriental Park Racetrack infield at Marianao, Havana, a memory of many of his exiled patients. “In pre-Castro years, it shared winter racing dates with Hialeah and Gulfstream,” Dr. Fernandez recalled.
A 1952 photo of the Cuban Presidential Palace during its takeover by ex-President Fulgencio Baptista hangs side-by-side with the 1952 baseball “Team Havana” group photo, player baseball cards and the team’s yearbook cover.
Arriving during the exodus of families from Castro’s Cuba, Dr. Fernandez’s life in the U.S. began in Hialeah at age 14 where he graduated from Hialeah High School, later obtaining his medical degree from Barry University before interning at Westchester Hospital.
His inherent love of South Florida history recently extended to a two-day, overnight Boy Scout trek duplicating the late 19th Century “Barefoot Mailman” route, by walking the beachfront in early February with son, Erik, 12, from West Palm Beach to Miami and tenting with a Scout troop overnight.
“That story is an important to South Florida history. Such things need to be remembered,” added Dr. Fernandez, an aficionado of NASA space explorations.
His newest acquisition is an eight by 10 photo of the first (and only) night launch of an Apollo (17) spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center in 1972, taken from a Key Biscayne beach as its booster rockets etched a curving gold arc high above Biscayne Bay.
“The Cape is a fantastic place to visit,” he added, noting that on a recent second trip while attending a medical convention in Orlando, he found “everything there has changed. Now it costs $50 for a tour!” he laughed.
“But that is where life takes you.”