Doctors used to make house calls. That may be hard for some individuals under the age of 50 to believe, but it is part of medical history.

Doctors used to make house calls. That may be hard for some individuals under the age of 50 to believe, but it is part of medical history.

There was a period in my grandmother’s life when she was too ill for a trip to the doctor’s office and too well for the hospital, so the doctor who lived in our small town would come by the house several days a week to see how she was doing and to administer whatever medical care he thought was necessary.

The doctor carried a big bag and usually had bubble gum in a side pocket for his younger patients. I suspected the promise of gum helped him ask questions to determine if he was dealing with ill adults or hypochondriacs.

Some individuals hold physicians in low esteem, calling them pompous and arrogant. “There is nothing that keeps poor people poor as much as paying doctor bills,” is a quote often attributed to Will Rogers.

The Oklahoma humorist had one equally well known observation: “When a doctor has pulled you through why you always got a warm place in your heart for him.” I have several warm places for them.

The late Dr. Joseph W. Ledbetter was one I held in high esteem as a good family doctor with a dry sense of humor. He was my family doctor for more than two decades and fishing partner even longer.

I’m not sure Dr. Joe would be practicing today because of the changes and ambiguities in the health care field. He would not have allowed any government functionary to tell him how to practice medicine.

Once when an insurance company questioned several tests he had ordered, he made it a point to call the insurance carrier and demand to speak to the employee who raised the question. Once he got the employee on the phone, he wanted to know what medical school they graduated from.

Once I stopped at his office to see him because I was feeling ill.

The receptionist said he was next door at a drug store. I found him drinking coffee with the pharmacist.

His diagnosis was quick: “You look awful.” He asked for my temperature and symptoms. He wrote out prescription and handed it to the pharmacist, then bought me a cup of coffee.

I stopped at his office after obtaining the prescription and paid the receptionist for an office visit. The next time I saw him, he almost ripped by shirt pocket returning the check.

Two Pine Bluff physicians recently told me to take two medical tests. The pulmonary specialist wanted a sleep test at a White Hall facility and the cardiologist ordered up a “nuclear stress test” at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. They had to explain the latter to me.

The technician for the sleep study said I would receive the results in two days. Two weeks later the only paper I have received is a $1,200 statement.

The technicians who conducted the stress test on my heart said if the results would be provided to me within 48-hours. It took some calls, but six days later I learned no problems were detected.

I wish Dr. Joe was still alive to make some calls and explain Medicare and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The words used by many physicians I know to describe the latter law can’t be used in a family newspaper.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at or at (870) 329-7010.