With stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, he has encountered some emergencies. He sent a lobbyist and a legislator straight to the hospital, one with a racing pulse, the other with a pulse that was dangerously low.
Usually people consult Garrett on little things that make it hard for them to trudge on with the work of the session. When the fluffy end of a cotton swab fell off inside the ear of a staffer, the steady-handed veteran of 13,000 surgeries fished it out with a tool he fashioned from a paper clip.
The General Assembly's three other doctor-legislators also get hit up for help — often for medical issues outside their area of expertise.
Northam is a pediatric neurologist. But this session, he has been specializing in the common cold and flu, with a little emergency medicine and orthodontics in the mix. When an elderly man fell in the Senate gallery and got a bad cut on his forehead, Northam dashed up from the floor to attend to him. He also lent a hand to a Capitol page who had a wire from her braces sticking into her gums.
"Whether you have expertise in that area or not, people are going to look to you," said state Del. John O'Bannon III, R-Henrico, also a neurologist. "We're kind of on-call."
Despite the partisan tensions in the evenly divided Senate, Northam helps legislators on both sides of the aisle keep healthy. The Democrat recently helped George Goodwin, legislative adviser to Sen. Thomas Garrett Jr., R-Louisa, get through the flu.
"We both graduated from VMI," Goodwin said, "and that transcends politics."
Saslaw called Northam "a miracle worker" after the doctor prescribed antibiotics and nasal spray for a nagging sinus infection. "We'd probably have a hard time getting a quorum each day if it wasn't for Ralph," Saslaw said.