When I was a child, doctors were making house calls. So did clergymen. Recently, I learned that a few educators of underprivileged minorities are also finding this forgotten practice surprisingly beneficial to their endeavor. I smiled, I knew that already!
While growing up in Italy, I was frequently ill. Because we did not own a car and I was debilitated, neither walking nor using public transportation was an option for seeking medical help. Quickly, I learned to look forward to our family doctor’s evening house calls to make me well.
I cherished his compassion and presence. In his mid-thirties, he too often looked weighted down by the long hours of his mission. Always gentle though – never in a hurry – he became like family to us. Sometimes, he would even sit down for a cup of coffee or a brief chat. But “our” doctor – who also doubled as my pediatrician – had a family of his own, and perhaps they felt the strain of his long hours too. I hope they supported his commitment because his presence made his patients feel well cared for and dissipated fears.
Never once, at the end of his visit, money came between his call and his mission thanks to the socialized medical system, which at the time was less technological, but still unspoiled by the mirage of status and quick wealth. So, no house call ended with a bill, rather with a sense that what he had done for me could not be repaid by a mere fee. While a stipend may have covered his after-hours service, true “caring” was always given free of charge. The “human touch”, his presence in my home no matter how late was his gift and it showed.
I miss his utopian trait. Healing – either of the body or the spirit – may not fully happen without his kind of commitment. He made no huge profits, yet never stopped making house calls. Around him, younger generations of physicians started to outgrow such habit. Maybe perceived as the stigma of “common” hired help, it blurred the prestige of the medical profession; or simply, it became impractical in a larger structure. Regardless, my pediatrician never missed a house call, and knew all of his patients by more than their name. Often, he was invited to weddings and other joyful celebrations as a simple way to express gratitude for his loyalty. His model shaped my life.
Today, some vets still make “barn” calls. Tomorrow, more teachers might try this inconvenient tool to help children and correct situations. So, this I believe: true presence in someone else’s moment is the value of the “human touch”. I believe in the power of such act, in its message of involvement, love and absolute dedication, which both ennoble and humble caregiver and recipient alike. My pediatrician’s gift embodied that, echoing the reassurance of a medieval call, which would still work wonders today, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
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