Imagine a Norman Rockwell-esque scene of a 1950's doctor's office in a small Midwestern town. The doctor is looking at a child's throat with his tongue depressor while the child is trying not to laugh at the doctor's silly shenanigans….
He was probably the funniest man I have ever had the absolute pleasure of knowing. AND he spent most of his life in the very unselfish profession of healing, treating and caring for others as a Family Practice physician. How many of us can say we know someone that fits both of those descriptions? I dare say very few! Somehow, the words "sense of humor" and "medical professional" don't usually seem to go hand in hand. (DISCLAIMER: I did not say "never".) However, we live in an age where a visit to the doctor usually means a minimum of thirty minutes in the waiting room (with no apologies), followed by a terse, rapid-fire Q&A with a physician that can't remember your name, let alone waste his time conversing, laughing and exchanging pleasantries.
Doc-Doc (the name given to him by his grandchildren) was indeed extraordinary in so many, many ways. First of all, this man put himself through medical school by dishing up ice cream at a Carnation ice cream parlor and working as a houseboy in a local sorority house! Neither of which are the most revered jobs. But he desperately wanted to be a doctor more than anything else in the world. He had a gift and he knew what his true calling was.
After finishing medical school and serving his required term as a physician in the United States Navy, Doc-Doc returned to his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma ("I'm proud to be an Okie… blah blah blah ….."). There he hung his shingle and proceeded to set up a practice that would span over forty years. Countless baby deliveries, gall bladders, broken bones, stitches, appendectomies and house calls later, he could look back over a highly respected career and total admiration by the thousands of families he served.
Did I say HOUSE CALLS? For those of you that have never heard that term, let me explain. This was an era when the family doctor's day didn't end when he turned over the "closed" sign on his office door. He would then proceed to drive through town, making a series of home visits throughout the city to call on those patients that were unable, for various reasons, to drive to his office. His son recalls driving along with him some evenings with a huge flashlight in the car to shine on the houses while searching for the correct address. And finally, after the last injection was given and the last prescription written, he was allowed to return to his own home and spend the remainder of the evening or what was left of it with his own family.
However, he was never officially "closed" as there was always a list of expectant mothers kept by the family telephone on the wall. (YES, kids, our telephones used to hang ON THE WALL! Can you imagine???) Phone calls to his home throughout the night meant that he rarely got a full six hours of uninterrupted sleep and some nights there were multiple trips to the hospital. There was no answering service or secondary physician "on call." But you would never hear him complain. Because he loved his work and he was devoted to his patients, all of whom he knew by name. As a matter of fact, family vacations and weekend outings were usually planned around the due dates of his many expectant OB patients.
Now this does NOT mean that his practice came before his family. There has never been a more devoted husband and father as Doc-Doc. He actually found a way to make time for both a medical career and his family! His children always came first and were never sacrificed for his work. Whenever there was a heavy snowfall, Doc-Doc would close his office for the afternoon and go home to pull all the neighborhood children all over town on their sleds. Did I mention that this was another era? This man had a gi-NOR-mous (look it up) heart that never stopped either for his family or his patients and that, to me, is what made him so special.
And as a grandfather??? Oh….. My….. Gawd! Never has there been a more entertaining, totally enamored, adoring grandfather on the face of this earth. He absolutely worshipped every one of his grandkids and always made time for them. He appreciated each one of their special characteristics, quirks and personalities as only a devoted grandparent could. Doc-Doc could always make them laugh to near hysteria and those lucky grandkids will cherish their wonderful memories forever.
While an entire book could be written about the many years of service and acts of kindness by this extraordinary man, a few in particular stand out in my mind. The first story is of a young girl whose nightgown had caught on fire from the floor furnace in her home. Doc-Doc just happened to be driving by her house as she came running out with her clothes in flames. Coincidence? I think not! He stopped the car, rushed to the child, wrapped her in his overcoat and drove her to the hospital himself. He continued to monitor her progress until her family was forced to move to a larger city with a more sophisticated Burn Unit. Years later, having lost track of the family, Doc-Doc received a letter from the young woman. She, too, had become a physician and credited him with not only saving her life but also inspiring her to enter the field of medicine in an effort to be a doctor with a highly respected reputation such as his.
Unfortunately, Doc-Doc practiced medicine in an era that preceded the progress of the civil rights movement. In his day, black physicians were not allowed practice privileges at the local hospital. This did not prevent Doc-Doc from becoming a lifelong friend of a black colleague. While others simply turned their heads to this injustice, Doc-Doc would travel with his friend to medical conferences in cities where the "upscale" restaurants refused to serve them. So the two of them would just find themselves a good ol' diner and enjoy the pleasure of each other's company. Their friendship lasted for many years and finally saw the acceptance of ALL licensed qualified physicians at most hospitals. Doc-Doc could proudly say that he had been an advocate for this change all along. After retirement, these two silver-haired, balding gentlemen met weekly with other retired colleagues for some coffee and reminiscing, calling their little club "R.U.M.P." (Retired Unemployed Medical Professionals).
Medical insurance was more of a luxury during that time than a necessity as it is today. Most people paid what they could and no one was turned away. Because of his generosity in treating everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, Doc-Doc's home always had plenty of whatever seasonal crop was currently being harvested. There was always an abundant supply of pecans, peaches, tomatoes, etc. These gifts were always accepted with the graciousness of a true gentleman and no mention was every made of debts owed or repaid.
So, you might ask, how was I so fortunate to know this extraordinary man??? Well, I thank my lucky stars every day that I had the privilege of marrying his son. God has been soooo good to me.