The Old Timey Family Doctor

Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Growing up, my family--my parents, siblings, and I--all went to the same family doctor in town for general check-ups, injuries and ailments. Dr. McArdle could treat it all--he left the golf course one afternoon when I was an infant to give me a shot when I contracted measles. Five years later, I got a shot in the buttocks for a raging case of poison ivy, and it was cleared up within 24 hours. When a metal splinter got stuck in my brother's eye when he was working underneath a car, he came over the house to take it out. I never appreciated any of this until now, but Dr. McArdle was an amazing doctor, and he dispensed medicine with a gentle bedside manner and a dose of kindness. All of the years I can remember going to him, it seems my mother and I were never waiting long in the wait room. 

It's such a drastic difference compared to today. I don't want the comments for this post to turn into a raging political debate about insurance and pharmaceutical companies; I'm just trying to point out how difficult and stressful trying to see a doctor can be today compared to the 1970s. Doctors of the present day are seeing way more patients in the course of a day, which means they have less time to really listen to you as a person. The general practitioner will often refer you to a specialist for treatments they used to be able to do themselves. If you're lucky, you have insurance that allows you to see a specialist without their permission; if not, you must wait for their referral. Waiting rooms? Maybe they should be called wasting rooms, since you waste time sitting around for your turn, particularly in walk-in clinics and ERs. My mother waited for 8 hours in one a few months ago with an infected hand from a stray cat's bite, despite the walk-in clinic's reassurance that they had faxed the hospital the proper paperwork that would have gotten her admittance right away.

My mother also asked her present GP today for a pain shot for her bursitis, only to be told it can't be done by them and that she should see a specialist. She lamented that Dr. McArdle would have been able, and happy, to give her a shot with no problem. It's all about giving patients the runaround now. Sadly, the old time family doctor who went out of his way--who was allowed to go out of his way without insurance company red tape--is gone.


  1. I grew up with a family doc, who still made house calls if we were too sick to make it to his office. Having just spent the past month dealing with hospitals for my dad, I am both appalled and delighted. The system sucks!!!! The people (most of them) wonderful.

  2. I also grew up in a rural community with one doctor (think Doc Hollywood) who not only would come to your house if you were too ill to come yourself, he was a entrepenuer and a philanthropist; he would buy into your start-up if he saw the potential for growth, and would let you buy back his share when the business grew. He bought the land and installed the equipment for a neighborhood playground and an arcade (including a bucking barrel, it occurred to no one that the liablity could be great from an injury). He was a great guy, well loved and sorely missed when he died.
    Starting in the '60s with the Great Society and the intrusion of the government into medicine, the government set the pay scale for services with Medicare. Doctors being human, saw the potential for gaming these rates and the monetary gain for specializing in the higher ended pay scales. Now enter the lawyers, seeing a buck to be made with liability insurance claims against doctors. I worked for a company that made spineboards that had to carry a $4M liability policy because of the blood sucking LAWyas propensity to sue anyone and everyone for an injury claim. We never lost in court, but the cost of maintaining that policy added to operating expenses which are passed on to the customer. Add in the expense of a medical degree, typically $200K, who can afford to be a doctor, much less a country one? The PA (physicians assistant) is more likely to work these areas now, but I hear the same lament of long waits and denied care because "your insurance doesn't cover it". We have witnessed the end of an era I'm afraid.

  3. Our kids doctor wouldn't even give one of my sons 3 stitches in his finger. We had to go to the hospital. For 3 stitches! Ridiculous.

  4. I recall doctors who came to the house up until the mid-1960s. After that no matter how sick we were it was off to the car, drive to a waiting room, cough and hack up in the waiting room, then examined. Progress.

  5. I was sorry to hear about that extremely long wait of your mom's. It always annoys me when we've had to spend such a long time waiting in the ER which I've taken mom to many times over the past 25 years and sometimes the place isn't even that busy. One recent doctor's office visit was 2 and a half hours and most of that was waiting time. It is ridiculous that your mom had to go to a specialist just for that shot. The current state of medical care in this country is pretty sad and it just seems to keep getting worse. Old time doctors certainly do sound nice.

  6. Sassy Lassies Vintage Life--I miss the idea of doctor house calls.

    dryheat45, thanks for summing up the decline of the American health care system for us. It's all about greed and how much insurance companies (and some doctors) can make today.

    Retro Hound--WTF! That's what I'm talking about, 3 lousy stitches?

    42N--few things worse than having to wait, especially when you're feeling under the weather.

    LaraAnn--2 and a half hours should be unacceptable! I'm sorry you had to wait that long.

  7. I called to book my annual physical in November ... the first available appointment was March 30!!


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