When I was a boy, we actually had a kindly old family doctor, straight out of Central Casting. I still remember him fondly – tall, thin, white-haired, gentle-voiced, Henry Heller, M.D., General Practitioner.
He took a year off from his practice to go to Viet Nam. When he returned, in an unobtrusive corner of his office, there was a framed letter from his commanding officer, commending him for his bravery under fire.
When my age was still in single digits, I began experiencing shooting pains in my legs that would awaken me in the middle of the night. My mother told me they were growing pains, a harmless lie mothers have told their children for generations. Unconvinced, I demanded to be taken to see Dr. Heller. He examined me briefly, then let out a hearty laugh and pronounced, “You have a good foot. There’s nothing wrong with your foot.” And you know something? The pains went away and never came back.
It was about that time that they began to phase out general practitioners. I can’t see any good reason why. To my mind, a general practitioner sounds like a very good thing to be – much better than being the kind of doctor who says, “I can’t help you with your problem in your left big toe – I’m a right big toe man.”
I know that they are training more nurse practitioners to fill the void created by the demise of the general practitioner. While I applaud this trend, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to fill Dr. Heller’s shoes.
For most of my adult life I had no health insurance, and for the most part did not seek medical attention. I always figured in the unlikely event that I suffered a serious accident or illness, I would just declare bankruptcy. You can’t get blood out of a stone. But a couple of years ago my mother died and left me a modest bequest. For the first time in my adult life, I had something to lose, so I purchased a policy with a $10,000 deductible (not a typo).
Before I could buy the policy, I had to undergo a physical exam, I guess so they could exclude me if I should turn out to be one of those pesky people who actually need medical care. I couldn’t find a general practitioner, so I selected an internist. Tall, thin, white-haired, gentle-voiced, he had a little something of Dr. Heller’s reassuring manner.
In the course of the examination, I mentioned to him that I had occasionally been troubled by gout.
I was impressed that he didn’t try to burden me with a prescription for six new medications, or even one. Since the attacks happened only about once a year, he recommended a strategy of watchful waiting, and I couldn’t have agreed more. That was two years ago. And you know something? I haven’t had an attack since then.
I enjoyed my encounter with him. But I won’t be making an appointment with him again. He’s already since retired.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons