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Doctor Docum

Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 11:57 a.m. CDT

Watching the Doc Martin series on Netflix, I’m reminded of our town doctor in Monroe, back in the sixties.  His last name was Docum, if you can imagine, or Doctor Docum.  No one knew his first name.  Like Doc Martin he was aloof, quirky, and moody; but deep inside, loved the small town he cared for.

My dad ran the Shell station across the street from Doctor Docum’s office, and the doc was a regular customer.  He drove a special edition Cadillac Silverado that had actual silver plating.  The car was the talk of the town.  In the wintertime, when it was time to flush radiators and add antifreeze, Docum insisted that my dad put only distilled water into his radiator. 

My dad shrugged, “If that’s what Docum wants, that’s what he’s gonna get, by golly.  But he’ll pay for it.” 

In those day, you didn’t need an appointment to see the doctor.  You just walked into his office, sat down, and waited your turn.  Sorta like the barber shop.

And you never knew what mood Docum was going to be in.  Some days you were his best friend, the next day he acted like he didn’t know you.  On the friendly days, he loved to tell stories. 

“Heard a pheasant crow behind my house this morning,” he told my dad at the gas station.  “Stepped out of the house with the double-barrel sixteen.  Had to climb a  fence to get into the orchard.  I had one leg over the fence, when the rooster got up.  I swung the gun with one arm, pulled the trigger and knocked him down.  Another rooster got up on the other side of the fence.  I swung back around and let him have it, too.  Both with one hand.” 

My dad turned and gave me a wink.

A big orange highway truck came screaming into town one day, and skidded to a halt in front of Docum’s office. This was before the days of EMS.

Doctor Docum met the driver at the door.  We could hear them clear across the street. 

“Head-on collision, south of town by the river bridge!  It’s a bad one, Doc!”

Doctor Docum, still in his white lab coat, jumped into his Caddy, and peeled out.  But he needed gas.  He slammed to a halt in front of our gas pumps. 

Dad was waiting with nozzle in hand.  Dad shot a little gas into the Caddy and, before he could get the gas cap back on, Docum was peeling out.  I can still remember the look on Doctor Docum’s face: dead serious.

A while later, he was back in town, to get his gas cap and fill his tank the rest of the way up.  Premium.  We all gathered around to hear what had happened. This was before the days of HIPAA.

All he said was, “Lady on the ground mumbling.  I couldn’t figure out what she wanted.  She seemed to be indicating her jaw or mouth.  I opened her mouth and pulled out a chunk of glass as big as my hand.”

We all gasped.  Dad didn’t wink this time.

My brother was real sick once and couldn’t get out of bed.  My mother summoned Doctor Docum. This was in the days of house calls. She met him at the door. 

“I think it’s his appendix, Doc,” she told him.  He shot back, “I’m the doctor!”

I heard Doc Martin say the exact same thing.

Docum summoned the undertaker with his hearse to haul my brother to the hospital in Des Moines (before the days of ambulances). 

My brother’s appendix ruptured when they lifted him out of bed.  He was in the hospital for two weeks, had three surgeries, and almost died. 

Doctor Docum made the 30-mile trip to Des Moines every day, the silver Caddy burning up the highways, that look of dead seriousness sealed on his face.

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