The older we get, the more we realize that the good old days are gone - but not forgotten. Remember when it was a comfort to have a family doctor you could count on in an emergency? As a child, our family doctor even made house calls and, in an emergency, he was Johnny-on-the-spot!
Times change, and so does the way we receive medical treatment. Just the other day, we had an emergency at our house. Dottie was making dinner and scalded her hand. The pain was unbearable. We had a burn salve, but it was nearly gone and we needed a new prescription. It was about 4:35 p.m., and the family doctor's office closed at 4:30 p.m. A call for help from the doctor brought a response from the answering service to "Go to the emergency room."
The last time we went to the emergency room for a lacerated finger, the bill was more than $2,200, and we had to wait about seven hours to see a doctor. This time, all we needed was a renewed prescription, so we were not too keen on running up another high emergency bill at the local hospital.
We tried calling another physician. We punched buttons, listened to music on hold, left a message asking for help, and were told "Go to the emergency room." Our conclusion is that apparently few doctors will respond to an individual after regular office hours.
Is it any wonder that emergency rooms at the local hospital are so crowded and waiting time is long? So many referrals and so few responders. Have people become mere cogs and a money-making machine?
Maybe you will remember when, right here in Conyers, we had a "country doctor." His patients were not strangers, and he had a satchel full of miracles ready to share with the needy. He knew the smells of the kitchen and the farm, and his experience often helped him tell the nature of a disease without a laboratory test. He was an expert in handling human crises. All who knew him have only deep and moving memories of this remarkable man.
If you had an emergency after office hours, it was possible to call him at home. He answered his own telephone and would meet you back in his office for treatment. How could you not have an enduring affection for a doctor who was a beacon in the darkness, ready to serve and be there for his patients?
The old doctor would not send you to the hospital without communicating with you, explaining your need to go for emergency treatment. It was comforting to know he was there for you in a scary hour of need. If you did need hospital treatment, this doctor quickly arranged it for you.
The small town has grown and the population is more diverse. Doctors may know old-timers, but their practices have also grown and may, as a result, become more impersonal. They may not really know all patients and respond to more office emergencies than in bygone days.
From experience, the best advice one can offer is don't get hurt after office hours. If you do, you might be surprised to find yourself all alone out there, unless you "Go to the emergency room." If you do go there, take your wallet and your insurance cards with you, you will definitely need them! Also, take a good book. You may have time to read it while you are waiting for treatment.
The gradual disappearance of the old-time country doctor is sad, isn't it?
Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.