Can You Remember When Doctors Made House Calls?

By Joe Darby

Being as Mary and I are no longer spring chickens and some of the ailments of age catch up with us occasionally, it seems we spend a fair amount of time driving to see doctors out of town.

I have a very good, caring primary physician, as I believe they call them these days (if you’re reading this Doc, you know who you are) but sometimes she has to refer me to specialists either in Alexandria or Shreveport. I much prefer the trip to Alec. It’s only 10 to 20 miles closer (depending on where the doctor’s office is located) but it just seems to be a much easier drive.

And that’s a new phenomenon for me. In Baton Rouge, where I grew up, and in New Orleans, where I spend my working life, I never had to drive more than, say, 15 miles or so, to see a doctor, no matter what their exotic specialty.

But, even better than that when I was a lad, you didn’t have to drive anywhere to get health care! Doctors used to come to your house. Yes, they made house calls. I’m sure you younger folks have heard such a thing from your grandparents, perhaps, but I can assure you it’s really true!

You’d be sick in bed, maybe surrounded by toys or books if you weren’t feeling really, really bad, when a knock on the front door would signal that the doctor was at your house.

(Let me divert here for just a moment. My above statement that you’d be surrounded by books or toys if you weren’t too sick, just jogged a memory. I had a number of little toy soldiers and I could play great battles with them in bed. If I raised my knees they made great mountains to be defended and the many folds in the spread made great trenches in which to set up machine gun nests. It was always rough on the attacking soldiers.)

Anyway, we were at the point where your mother was about to let the doctor in the house. And that always produced mixed emotions in me. When I heard that knock, I knew he was going to do some things to make me feel better. But the odds were very great that among those things was giving me a shot, an injection!

When I get an injection these days, it’s hard for me to believe how much I dreaded and feared getting one when I was a child. The pain is usually quite mild and lasts for a few seconds. But boy, I felt like I was a torture victim when getting a shot when I was a kid. I had to hold on to Momma’s arm, scratching her with my fingernails in the process (which she stoically withstood) until the horrible ordeal was over.

But, sure enough, I’d almost always get well in a few days. Feeling better was great, of course, but that also meant it was time to go back to school. On the morning set for my return to the classroom, I always seemed to feel like I was having a relapse. “Oh, Momma, my throat’s sore again. I don’t think I should go to school yet.”

Nine times out of 10, Momma’s judgement was different from mine and I ended up trudging off to school.

It’s inconceivable that any physician would make house calls today. Not when you have to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour so see a doctor in his or her own office!

The diagnostic methods that doctors have today, from PET Scans to MRI’s, would absolutely amaze the old doc who used to come to my house. As would all of the medicines that help keep us alive. And all of our medical records are computerized, the docs all have a list of our medicines, and they don’t even have to phone pharmacies to call in a prescription. It’s all done electronically.

So that’s the way of the medical profession today, right? But for just one more time, I’d love to be lying in bed, surrounded by books, when my doctor knocks on my door. And I wouldn’t even fear the inevitable shot, because they just don’t seem to hurt nearly as much any more.

3 thoughts on “Can You Remember When Doctors Made House Calls?

  1. Back in the day, Marthaville had not only a Doctor but a hospital as well. Dr. Russell, a Natchitoches resident, was well loved by everyone in our community. He also made house calls. I remember the time he made a house call to remove a piece of glass out of my foot. While Daddy and Mama was trying their best to hold me down, Dr. Russell had a firm hand on me to stay still so he could get that small piece of glass out. In 1957, he delivered my brother at our Marthaville hospital. So many fond memories. Thank you for your story that has really made me think back with a smile!!

      • The Good Ole Days, we had no clue at the time that we were really living in the Good Ole Days….Marthaville had so much at one time, Doctor, Hospital and even a Dentist, Dr. Jerome Wagley. We take things for granted, thinking that it will always be there but like everything else, it does change and we do too. Memories we can share like we are doing now..Always good thoughts with a smile.

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