Taking the Hippocratic oath to heart

“The means of transportation at the beginning of any doctor’s country practice was preferred in the order named: horse or team and buggy; horse and road cart, a two-wheeled vehicle with a simple and very hard board seat on which no cushion could be fastened; horseback; and finally just plain everyday walking it or pedaling a lowly bicycle.

“The bicycle was fine when roads were good and the distance not too great, but I never could suppress an inferiority complex while riding one. And naturally, most of the sicknesses occurred when the weather was inclement, either very hot or very cold and stormy and the roads indescribably bad; in fact there were no roads. At such seasons I sometimes spent the greater part of the twenty-four hours in the buggy. When the roads were good the population suddenly became provokingly healthy.”

- from The Horse and Buggy Doctor

by Arthur E. Hertzler, M.D.


Perhaps one reason I have found the true story of Dr. Arthur Hertzler to be such a charming read is that he decided if he were going to write a book about his life, by golly, he was going to tell it like it really was.

He tells of the enormous headaches he encountered on his journey to help others with their headaches and heartaches.

In one particularly difficult journey, after having encountered mean dogs, mud in the roads so deep that could barely let him pass, the journey then required him to leave his horse and hop aboard a most uncomfortable train for the last leg of the journey. When he finally got to the home of the patient for whom he had been summoned, he had nothing he could do for the suffering man.

“Since there was nothing I could do, there was, of course, no pay.”

Timeless wisdom. Another point he makes, which should quite honestly be tacked on the walls of every one of today’s doctors, is this:

“Yet after all it is quite possible that if the young doctor of today had to make great sacrifices to reach his patient, and then sit for hours watching the course of the disease, he might take a more understanding view of the sick human. At any rate, if so occupied, the commercial side of medicine would not loom so large.”

And to think, the book’s copyright is 1938.

Already, Dr. Hertzler saw changes in the works, and he did not like where things were heading for the sake of the patients. Life was definitely improving for the doctors, and deservedly so, but what would Hertzler have thought if he could see the way things are in 2003?

Fast forward. My own experiences with doctors have been increasingly disheartening. My first mistake was believing that once we finally had a diagnosis for my son, things would improve.

We spent a day in the emergency room last week. After the I.V. drip finished, about the only thing they could tell us is that they “know nothing about Lyme disease” so they wanted us to follow up with a gastroenterologist on Monday morning.

I know nothing... The first thing the gastro doctor said when he finally arrived in that chilly room, my ill son freezing in a thin examination gown, was this: “I know nothing about Lyme disease.” Consequently, he did nothing for my son, except to tell him “let’s wait and see if anything like this episode happens again.”

I pointed out that this has been happening to him for almost five years now. How many “episodes” does he have to endure?

Two days later, the bill came in the mail, urging prompt payment. It was $155.

Taking a note from Dr. Hertzler’s book, I feel prompted to observe that we spent our money and our time getting to the doctor’s office, and he quite easily admitted he could do nothing for us. And yet I owe him $155?

I miss the days when doctors cared deeply for their patients, and their services did not wipe out a family’s finances.

Greater satisfaction. Hertzler’s observation is touching: “One winter I attended a large number of pneumonia patients. Very few died. As I battled the elements to reach my patients, I had the greatest personal satisfaction in my achievements.

“I did not know then as I do now that the epidemic was a mild one and that my efforts to control the disease were futile. But the experience did me good. 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.”

Ah, don’t you miss the good old days?

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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