“I learned to endure hardships for the sake of my patients and I made good my boast that if a message could get through to me I would get through to the patient.
Stubbornness grows on what it feeds on and this intensified tenacity of purpose stood me in good stead in later years when I had to combat a serious disease with only a remote chance of accomplishing anything.
Perhaps when Pope wrote ‘for fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ he had the young doctor in mind. This raises the question as to whether or not anyone with good sense ever accomplishes anything. Most achievements follow the efforts of those too dumb to quit. Life is that way.”
– Arthur E. Hertzler
“The Horse and Buggy Doctor,” 1938
By JUDITH SUTHERLAND
Farm and Dairy Columnist
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a young boy decided he wanted to pursue higher education in order to emulate the physician who cared for him. There were no visions of bags filled with gold along his path, only the simple thought, “I can help.”
Every once in awhile, a story just sort of reaches out and taps our collective consciousness. “This Doctor’s Fee: Five Dollars” was the title of a one-page piece in a recent People magazine, under the heading “Heroes Among Us.”
This June 4 story prompted many letters to the editor, and I can certainly see why. It jostled something in me in that makes me wish to know more.
Russell Dohner, an 87-year-old medical doctor in Rushville, Ill., was described as a “gentlemanly bachelor, who lives off the income from his farm and draws no salary.” He was influenced to become a doctor by his own early health issues, saying he recalls having terrifying bouts of seizures when he was a boy, and always recalled seeing his physician, Dr. Hamilton, caring for him when he came around.
Deciding he wanted to be like his childhood doctor, he went to medical school, then hung out a shingle in the next county. His fee for an office visit in 1955 was $2.
To this day, he still sees patients seven days a week out of the very same office in which he started his practice, though his price has now climbed to $5. He does not take insurance, and all patients are treated equally. He keeps his own hand-written records on each patient with the help of his longtime nurse Florence Bottorff, who is 88. A photo shows a vibrant man dressed in a white lab coat, white shirt and tie, a black fedora, and a kind smile.
“There are quite a few people who come to see me because they can’t afford anybody else. I can help,” Dr. Dohner is quoted in the article. He has delivered 3,400 babies, works every day, and has not taken a vacation in 57 years.
The old-time doctors, and Dr. Dohner is among them, never had to fuss or fight with health insurance providers. The doctor was the boss, and he was clearly in charge.
In the book written by the pioneer physician Dr. Hartzler, he tells of doing kitchen surgery for everything from goiters to pelvic tumors to cysts that had been mistaken for cancer.
“In fact, I have done about every operation known to surgery in the kitchen, from ingrowing toenails to Gasserian ganglions. I was not afraid then. I look back on those days of kitchen surgery with unadulterated pleasure. No doubt about it, I saved many lives, and made many friendships which have endured.”
Many health emergencies relied both then and now on someone to step up to the plate, ready to take action with a large dose of common sense. Where has this part of the equation gone?
It has been lost in the massive stacks of paperwork and ridiculous juggling of facts, driving prices sky high while taking sense out of the picture completely. It has also been lost in the fear of lawsuits, along with terms such as “out of network” and “out of pocket.”
It was ALL out of pocket in a more sensible time, and everyone found a way to pay it. What a breath of fresh air a gentleman like Dr. Dohner is — a man who is a friend to those in his community, working to help those in need while setting aside his own drive for fortune or fame.
Though it looks as though fame may have found him, like it or not.