House Calls and Other Artifacts

Posted on October 24, 2020


House Calls and Other Artifacts

I am writing about a phenomenon which most of you under thirty or forty will have no idea about. Those above fifty or sixty will recognize the phrase “house call” almost immediately, kind of like recognizing Sputnik as part of the Cold War which itself may be just an historical allusion (maybe illusion) these days.

A house call was when the doctor came to your house because you were sick and needed tending to. He usually lugged a huge black bag that seemed to carry—like my tool bag—every medicine known to man, or least to that time in history.

I’ve been reading lately about people writing about their experiences growing up and how they were either edified, inspired, and lifted up or pretty much dumped them into the trash heap by the circumstances of their lives. These “coming of age” memoirs or accounts or whatever scholars and laymen choose to call them these days seem to be very popular. Everyone wants everybody to know something about themselves. We call this the “new normal.”

How can anybody not be interested in me, my story, my message, best told breathlessly and immediately if not sooner in social media of course, or in a series of Tweets. Perhaps the new genre might be labeled “Tweetography,” or Tweet biography. Someone like the President who Tweets almost maniacally could string together his Tweets for the past five or six years: presto, a new book. Or better—for those with memory span of about a nano-second–a Kindle edition for those who get hives without having a tablet or phone which can change the pages quickly, change to another coming of age memoir just as quickly, or take a phone call from their doctor who is calling on the “new house call.”

What’s a new house call? It’s one on Zoom or Facetime. You see your doctor virtually and he can examine you on the screen. “Where does it hurt?”

“My lower back doc.”

“Hmmm, can you reach around with the phone and point to it?”


“No, I need to see it uncovered. You still appear to have your shirt and pants on.”

“Doc I’m in my car.”

“In your car!? How can you expect me to examine you?”

“Well, I’ll have to drive home. Right now, I’m in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.”

Going to see your dentist on the other hand cannot be done virtually since the camera on your cell phone is hard to get in your mouth and it tends to fog over from your saliva which we used to call spit. At the foyer to the entrance to the main waiting room you are met by what may be an attractive young receptionist, but you really can’t tell. She’s covered from head to toe like preparing to climb into the jump seat in a rocket going into space. She takes your temperature by pointing a little stick at your forehead and asks you a few questions like where were you born, are you feeling good today, how many children do you have and then allows you to pass into the inner sanctum.

The dentist, we call them odontologists in my other native tongue, Spanish, because it sounds more dignified and professional. “Dentist” sounds only one remove from “garbage man.” So, anyhow, my poor odontologist is dressed in what appears to be a Hazmat uniform that makes the receptionist look like a mere rookie scientist.

I can barely see his eyes but he’s an old friend and I recognize his voice as he and his assistants peer over me as they would a sleeping body, which, in fact, is an option offered to many patients. I can see them snoring away in chairs as I walk through the aisle, mouths gaping open, oblivious to life going on around them, until, of course, they waken.

I liked the old days to tell the truth. The only problem with the doctor when he came to our home is that among the plethora of medicines and instruments in his big black bag were the ingredients needed to give you a shot of penicillin or some other wonder drug. And of course, it was administered with a needle.

The man who invented the needle is either burning in hell or has been transfigured into a white shining knight in medical heaven. He may be black actually, or an Asian, or Quiche Maya in color and stature, but here we go into the contemporary world of define and hate. Maybe the good old days were indeed better than today. Sigh. Except that the needle is still around.

Published as “House calls and other artifacts” in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday, Oct. 18 2020.

Posted in: Life in America