That Was Then, This is Now

My mother’s father died when she was sixteen; I never met him. He was a doctor in Roodhouse, the small town in downstate Illinois where he grew up. During World War I, he was sent to the Rockefeller Institute in New York to do war work–what, exactly, I’ve never known. After the war, he returned to Roodhouse. As the Depression struck and unemployment rose, his patients became unable to pay him; he took payment in canned goods, or in the occasional duck or chicken, but he never turned anyone away because they had no insurance.

In 1935, he Mayo Clinic invited him to join them in Minnesota; he was apparently a very good doctor indeed. He turned them down because that would have left his small town without medical care.

In 1937, he had gallbladder surgery. Three days afterward, an old man in town slipped and fell on the ice. My grandfather went out to look after the old man, couldn’t find anyone to help  lift him, and carried him into his home himself. The strain so soon after abdominal surgery was too much for my grandfather’s heart. He died the following week. He was 49 years old.

I thought about him recently. I turned sixty-five earlier this month and have learned to my chagrin that the doctors I see for a thyroid disorder, the mammographer who looks at the lumps in my breast, and the gynecologist who discusses them with me, do not accept Medicare. If you opt out of Medicare, your patients are responsible for the whole bill–the patient, or customer as we prefer to call them–can’t submit the bills to Medicare herself. My gynecologist explained that medicine was a business these days, not a service. No one’s asking her to accept a jar of tomatoes in lieu of payment, but then, that would be ludicrous when you’re running a business, not providing a service.

Maybe if my grandfather had realized that, he’d have lived to see my mother graduate from college. But I don’t think we’d feel quite as honored to be living in his shadow.

Always another way to think outside the box

  • Great to read this at the end of the day. Life-enhancing. Gonna share. Thank you.

  • My new British GP appears to have lost sight of why he’s a doctor. I think I need to find one who still understands the whole idea of what’s left of the NHS.
    Your Grandfather sounds wonderful!

  • Patsylee728

    I’m a school teacher who makes $48,000/yr and pay Cigna $5000/yr so I can pay a doctor $50 for a $110 office visit to send me to a specialist who blah blah blahs and so forth. When will it end? Thank God for your grandfather. I just finished “Break Down”. I loved it and the ending! Any chance another movie will be made? Keep writing, please.

  • Sara Paretsky

    Thanks for your comment and for introducing me to your great site

  • Sara Paretsky

    It’s very disheartening, as is Bookwitch’s comment. 

  • Pen

    As bookwitch says here in the UK we are moving away from our much admired National Health service towards a private healthcare culture. This government is busy fragmenting the NHS, putting so much pressure on it, in order to make it ripe for privatisation. It makes us in UK very angry, very sad & very scared for out future health service. What you say, Sara, is frightening.  

  • You’re very welcome! *Thank you.* 🙂

  • June nz

    Very sad that the US has few values left. In NZ we all get free care for life threatening illnesses or accidents, or serious conditions such as retinal surgery. For optional care we can choose between free and paid, the difference being that the waiting list for free care is usually longer, up to six months. Optional may include such things as cataracts, hip, knee replacements and so on. Dialysis etc is free. We can purchase insurance to cover the optional care and it can also be used by life-threatening conditions – the main diference in those cicrcumstances is that the hospitals and clinics tend to be newer and less crowded and the meals better. Most are happy with the free public government funded hospitals, but employers often subsidise health insurance premiums.

  • Steph

    Sara, I always enjoy your blog and of course your books. I ran across the blog about your grandfather. The town Roodhouse jumped at me. I have lived all my life in Alton, Ill. We are just a hop skip and a jump away from Roodhouse. I have such mixed emotions about health care. We need to get some honest politicians in office. While I have a few years before I am 65, 2 to be exact, I worry about what is to become of the elderly. There is no respect from the younger generation. I grew up with having great respect for my elders and couldn’t wait to be older so people would listen to me…. Whew, what a rude awakening for me.
    thanks so much for your thoughts

  • How fun for me that someone knows Roodhouse. I keep a photo on my desk of my granny at 18 in a basketball uniform–long skirt, of course–when Roodhouse women won the state HS basketball championship


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