A  long time ago, when I was seven or eight years old( this would have been in the mid 1950’s) I managed to convince my father and grandfather to let me accompany them to visit one of my grandfathers sick patients. Just a bit of back ground would be order at this time. My father was a physician -ObGyn, and my grandfather was a real country doctor. His father,  my great-grandfather was also a country doctor. They were  from eastern North Carolina and at this time my grandfather was practicing in Zebulon ,North Carolina.

We drove out in the country around Zebulon to a small house surrounded by fields. The wife of the farmer was ill and my grandfather wanted a second opinion about her situation. As I recall, the situation was not good and there was some concern about how to treat her. When we drove up, everyone came out from the house except the mother. I was instructed to remain by the car while they tended to the patient. Their equipment was a real “doctors black bag”–blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, few other odds and ends and a watch with a second-hand. Very primitive by the standards of today, but the two of them were not concerned. They had their hands, eyes, and a wealth of diagnostic skills built up with time.

There was no doubt the family was poor–tenant farmer, share cropper, I am not sure what the family did. There were a number of children, various ages and we stared at each other as children will do when confronted with a new situation. I have seen many houses like the one they lived in over the years. Most derelicts falling down and covered with vines and weeds. The house was built up off the ground with some brick pilings  and made from rough finished timber which was agedto  a sort of black brown and had never see any paint.  I don’t remember the windows having any curtains or even screens.

After a period of time, father and grandfather walked out of the front door and spoke with the husband. As I remember, they walked back to the car and had a discussion of sorts. It dealt with the womans situation and my father was not optimistic. Grandfather concurred and there was bit more discussion. I believe that he went back to the house and had a brief talk with the husband.

This was all on a Sunday afternoon, as Sunday was generally the day we visited my grandfather. It was a beautiful day, lots of sunshine and late summer. Not much was said on the ride back although I am sure that I made attempts at talking, but was  encouraged  to be quiet,as everyone was not in a talkative mood.

I have no idea what happened to the woman and her family. Obviously, the event impressed me as I can remember most of what happened. But I never asked my father or grandfather about it and they never spoke of it, at least not when I was around. But I was witness to an event that no longer exist–doctors making a house call to visit a sick patient. No fancy machines and lab test, only their knowledge and diagnostic abilities backed up by their examination with hands and eyes. This is still the way many doctors make their diagnosis, but it is rendered in an office or hospital instead of a farm-house miles from any city. I think that I find myself reflecting on this event more and more, with the discussion of the vast changes that have occurred in health care, and the potential changes that are coming. It was a simple time with simple yet time-tested techniques. Money was not much of an issue; the man had little if any and probably paid my grandfather with something from the farm. He received a high-powered specialist consultation from my father, who asked for nothing–he was helping his father and another physician with a difficult case. I feel lucky to have been present for this small vignette of medical history. A real country doctor at work.