Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: House Calls
I love that scene in old westerns of a carriage with a patient horse, waiting for a doctor to come out of a farmhouse, swinging his bag and carrying an armload of baked goods or other forms of barter to pay for services rendered. It is a picture of a time that will never come again, for the days of house-calling doctors have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
From those far away days of my childhood, there is a memory few children of today will ever have. It usually comes to me when I am sick in bed. Through the haze of a fever, I can see the black dome of a doctor's bag lying on my bed and hear the sharp metallic click of the clasp, as the doctor opens it to remove that coldest instrument: the stethoscope.
It is only a feverish memory of course, because it has been years since a doctor has visited my home to administer to a family member or myself. The only way you get to see a doctor now is at their office or the hospital. A house call is such big news now that a television documentary was devoted to some doctor out west who still makes them.
There were only a few doctors who would still make house calls in the 1960s when I started my family, but their numbers were dwindling fast. My wife and I felt fortunate to find one who still thought of the house call as a part of his practice. His name was Dr. Donald Kirby, and he was a young doctor when we started seeing him, but he must have gotten his training before it was decided that house calls were an inefficient use of a doctor’s time. He was also always interested in the lives the children he delivered and never failed to ask about mine whenever we met on the street. I was impressed that most of the time he could even remember their names and what he had treated them for last. I don't think he was a miracle man. I just think he cared.
It wasn't until he retired, that I realized how much my family depended on him. I doubt that a doctor could do business the way the old ones like Dr. Kirby did and last long in practice. In those days, children were paid for on the installment plan, and as I recall, we had just paid my daughter off when my oldest son came along. I know there are still some doctors who keep a running tab for patients who are living from paycheck to paycheck, but they are a rare breed today.
I do like the doctors who take care of me today, and feel they are highly qualified physicians, but when I am so sick I don't want to move, it would be nice to have a house call again.