Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 19
The longer I practiced medicine the more I realized that human nature is often revealed more starkly in times of stress than at any other time. And as I took notice of this fact I was constantly impressed by the certainty that man's behavior is rarely predictable. Take the case of these two men"
One of them called me a bitter cold night to come to his country home to see his wife. That necessitated a drive of fourteen miles. The poor soul, I found on making an examination, was suffering with an attack of acute gallstone colic; I was able to relieve her pain and eventually she made a very good, though of course temporary, recovery.
A few days later the husband came into my office to pay the bill. As I remember it was about eleven dollars. When I told him the amount he answered with an incredulous "What! Only eleven dollars! Why, I wouldn't have turned my dog out the night you made the trip to my place! Here, you take these. I want you to know how we appreciate what you did for mother," and he shoved two twenty-dollar bills into my hand.
It was probably just as well that my heart was still warm from this experience when I had my contact with the second man. He called me out that same winter (it was in 1899) to attend his wife in confinement. Since I expected to spend much of the night at the place I didn't take my driver with me. Driving six miles in the inky, cold night, I finally arrived at the place only to be welcomed by a distinctly unfriendly dog. I waited, but nobody else appeared. So rather than cause the delay of getting someone from the house, I unhitched my team by the light of my dash lamp and put them in the barn.
Once in the house, I found that although this was a confinement case things had not progressed far enough to make it necessary for me to remain. However, feeling that perhaps if I did go home I might be called back about as soon as I got there, I decided to stay.
It was well into the night by now and I was dead tired; yet there was no place for me to sleep: no bed, no couch, no cot. Well, I made the best of the situation. Putting my fur coat on the kitchen floor alongside the stove for a mattress and my fur cap over a piece of firewood for a pillow, I dozed off.
I awoke at seven to find that not even then were my professional services needed; I suggested to the husband that I would go home and that he should call me when I was needed. He made no move to go out and hitch up my team. I accepted the offer of a cup of coffee from the neighbor lady who was helping. I sipped the coffee, but still the husband made no move to leave for the barn. I sipped and he sat. "Purty cold this mornin," he observed; "the thermometer says 22 below." Yet he continued to sit. So with breakfast over I went out, hitched up my team, and started home.
A full three weeks later I was called out again on this same case. Again the dog barked at me, again I unhitched my own team. But this time the baby did arrive, and by morning, with the mother and child both all right, I was ready to leave. As before, the neighbor lady served me a cup of coffee; and as before, I hitched up my own team.
That was bad enough. But when, after having sent the husband a statement which was ignored, I read that he was having a sale and was moving out of the state, I decided I had had enough. So I handed the bill to an attorney. That bought action.
In a few days the husband burst into my office, boiling mad, cursing me up one side and down the other.
"I don't suppose you know that I have a bill against you," he snorted.
"A bill against me?" I was dumfounded.
"Yeah, and here it is!" Triumphantly he produced a dirty paper and from it read: "Stabling your team two nights, one dollar; two breakfasts, one dollar; one night's lodging, one dollar."
A traveling man who was in the waiting room and who had heard the conversation, jumped from his chair at the reading of the bill.
"Three dollars," repeated my irate caller, "and I figure you better take that off your bill if you've a mind to be fair!"
"Three dollars for what I got at your place? What that's an outrage!" After all, there was some limit to what even a doctor could take. "Why, I had to unhitch my own horses, hitch them up again myself; I had to sleep on the floor with a piece of wood for a pillow, and for breakfast I had exactly one cup of coffee! As a matter of fact--"
But here I was interrupted by my friend, the traveling man. He strode into the office room. "If you don't mind, doctor," he said with his lower jaw set grimly, "I'd just like to lick hell out of this man. I think he has a good threshing coming to him!" And he started to take off his coat.
That gave me an idea. "No," I answered, "I want that pleasure myself."
The husband looked at the traveling man and then at me. "Oh, well," he shrugged his shoulders, "If that's the way you feel about..." And, as meek as a lamb, he started to wrote out a check.
Handling it to me, he wheeled around and strode out the door. With something akin to panic I eyed his broad shoulders; I wonder what might have happened if he had called my bluff!