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Dr. Sam Brown and house calls

David Epps's picture

Dr. Sam Brown was my family’s doctor when I was a boy. I remember him being a kindly man who smiled a lot, especially when dealing with fidgety kids. I don’t recall that I was ever panicked about going to see Dr. Brown as I was when I was going to the dentist.

When I was 7 years old, I was in my parent’s home in Kingsport, Tenn., and, strangely, everything seemed to go distant. My mother, in the kitchen, appeared to be a football field’s length away from me and my hearing became muffled. Apparently, I then passed out.

When I awoke, it was dark outside and I was in my pajamas in my parents’ bed. I heard some adults talking and, through the haze of a clouded mind, recognized the voices of my mom and dad and the voice of Dr. Sam Brown.

I overheard Dr. Brown quietly telling my parents that I had pneumonia. I knew then that I was going to die.

Over the years I had heard the family gossip when the kin would gather at various family functions. I would hear them speak of people that I had never met.

“What was it that happened to her?” someone might inquire. “Oh, she died of pneumonia.”

It seemed that many of my relatives whom I had not met had perished from pneumonia. As a child, I assumed that a diagnosis of pneumonia was an automatic death sentence.

I lay there thinking that I was only 7 years old and that I didn’t want to die. I didn’t know what lay beyond second grade but I wanted to find out and, now, I would never get the chance. I wondered what would become of my dog, who would get my stuff (my only brother wasn’t yet born), and if anybody would miss me.

Even though I tried hard not to, I began to cry. My mom heard me, realized that I was awake, and came in. When she asked me what was wrong, I cried all the more.

Finally, I said, “I don’t want to die!” She tried to reassure me but I didn’t believe her. I had pneumonia, after all, and everyone died from that.

Then Dr. Brown came in. Back in the days when doctors made house calls, relationships were forged. My family was not wealthy by any means. We were blue collar, working class people. My dad was a laborer and would later be an electrician. My mom was a housewife.

Yet, to Dr. Brown, all his patients were just that — his patients. So here he was away from his home and family on a weekend night, seeing after one of his 7-year-old patients.

He sat on the bed and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I didn’t want to die.

“Why do you think you are going to die?” he inquired.

“Because I have pneumonia,” I sobbed. I then told him that everyone that I had ever heard about who had pneumonia had died.

Patiently, he explained about how times had changed, about how medicines were much better, and that very, very few people died from pneumonia these days.

Then he asked me, “David, do you trust me?” And I did. He was my doctor. I shook my head, “Yes.”

He smiled, leaned down close, and said, “You are not going to die. You are going to get better and, in a few days, you will be back in school. Now go to sleep and I’ll see you soon.”

I went to sleep. I believed him. I trusted him. I didn’t die.

Dr. Brown is long since departed from this earth but, from time to time, he is still remembered. To me, he was what a family doctor should be.

I know that those times are no more and are likely to never return. Still, I think something was lost when men like Dr. Sam Brown — doctors who made house calls to working class families and reassured frightened boys who were afraid to die — became mere memories and relics of a by-gone era.

But I suppose we have progressed. At least that’s what I am told.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese(www.midsouthdiocese.org) He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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