Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doctors Age Just Like Everyone Else

Recently, my three-year-old grandson crammed a crayon up his nose and a specialist had to extract it. When my son told me about the incident, I said, “Kind of reminds me of the time I lost the pencil eraser in my ear.”

“Was that you? I thought it was one of your brothers,” he said.

I recall that experience vividly, considering I was only a second grader. My ear itched, and I used the eraser end of my pencil to scratch it. I noticed the eraser had fallen out of the pencil and looked all around my desk for it. When I couldn’t find it, I just assumed it had rolled out of sight.

A week or so later, I developed a terrible earache. Mom took me to our family doctor in Stover. Dr. Hoffa sat me on a table and pointed a bright light at my ear.

“Wow, that light is shining right through your ears and onto the wall,” he said.

I might have been only seven, but that didn’t seem right to me. “No it isn’t,” I said. I did roll my eyes around trying to see if the light really was shining through.

The doctor stuck some high-tech instrument into my ear, tweezers, I’m pretty sure. Then, he showed me the little pink eraser off my yellow No. 2 pencil. “You knew that light wouldn’t shine through because the hole was plugged up with this.” he said.

“I wondered what happened to my eraser,” I said.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had an eraser in your ear?” my mom asked.

“I didn’t know it was there!” I said.

The doctor gave me a sucker and sent me on my way. Dr. Hoffa was the only doctor I saw until I married and moved away. He eventually retired and developed Alzheimer’s before his death.

When Jim and I were newlyweds, our family doctor was Dr. Kirby who retired many years ago.

When a family doctor retires, patients scramble to find another doctor. It’s discouraging when you make call after call to hear, “We aren’t taking new patients.” You keep asking yourself questions: Will I have to resort to finding a specialist for each medical problem I have? How will I find a good cold and flu specialist? Is the emergency room going to be my primary physician?

A 2008 University of Missouri (MU) study predicts a 44,000 shortfall of family doctors by 2025. Jack Colwill, professor emeritus of family and community medicine at MU School of Medicine, attributes the shortage to retiring baby boomer doctors being replaced by younger doctors who specialize rather than go into general practice.

Given how difficult it has always been to find a family doctor, this is not a huge surprise to many of us. We have become a more mobile society and if we aren’t moving from place to place, our doctors are. Either way, it’s up to us to find a doctor that fits our needs.

Rural areas will be particularly hard hit. Programs are in place to encourage medical students to become general practitioners in rural areas. MU has programs to place students in rural hospitals for their residencies and pre-admits students each year from rural areas. The students admitted under these programs are more likely to practice family medicine in a rural setting.

Family doctors know who you are when they see you. Your family doctor knows your family history, as well as your medical history. When Jim began to develop dementia, our family doctor knew Jim’s forgetfulness was not normal for him.

There may not be too many old-fashioned general practitioners like Dr. Hoffa, but as long as kids have No. 2 pencils, we need family doctors.

Copyright © September 2010, L. S. Fisher

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