Paying the Doctor

A neighbor told me a story recently, which illustrates some of the ways things have changed here over a span of a generation.

My neighbor’s mother was having a difficult time delivering his older sister.  His father had to go and get the doctor, although he would have preferred not to.  With the doctor’s help the baby was successfully delivered.  This was in the 1930s.  The doctor charged them $10.

When his father sold his crop that year, after paying off the crop lien he had a little over $10 left over.  That was his profit for the year.

He went to the doctor and told him that after selling the crop he had enough to pay his bill. “But,” he continued, “my mule died.  If I buy another mule I can make a crop next year.  If I don’t, I can’t.  I mean to pay you what I owe you and I have it with me. But if I pay you now I won’t be able to buy a mule.”

“Buy a mule,” the doctor responded, “and pay me when you can.”

He paid the doctor the following year.


9 comments on “Paying the Doctor

  1. […] was originally posted over on Practicing Resurrection by Bill […]


  2. Bob Braxton says:

    1930’s would it have been necessary to point out that the doctor was a male (head of household)? Thinking of 1960’s story – “I can’t operate on this boy – he’s my son” (the doctor was female – and is – mine, anyway)


  3. shoreacres says:

    I grew up in the day of paying with chickens and pies, so this makes perfect sense. Of course, those also were the days of house calls and lollipops for the children, so there you are. Funny that I still can visualize our doctor’s bag so clearly.


    • Bill says:

      I think you’ll enjoy Paul’s post of a couple of days ago about bartering:

      We barter a little but not nearly as much as we should. It’s on my list of things to get better at. Of course it’s difficult to barter for medical care these days since most of the time the patient is not paying the bill, at least not directly. Cherie uses a holistic doctor who doesn’t accept insurance, so it might be possible to barter with her, but I expect the vast majority would find the suggestion laughable.


  4. vpfarming says:

    My wife and I split the bill paying duties in our home. She does healthcare, I do everything else. It takes me maybe 5 minutes a week to pay the electric, phone, credit card bills etc. Now we don’t use the conventional healthcare system much at all, even so she spends probably 4 hours a month on the phone with insurance companies, doctor offices, and hospital administrators trying to sort out charges on an ER visit from 6 months ago. Amazing how far we’ve come. It’s called “progress” right?


    • Bill says:

      You definitely have the better end of that arrangement. Long ago I turned all things related to insurance and health care over to my wife, who has more patience and wisdom than me. It can be maddening.

      I think the biggest problem (among many) with the current health care system (which should more accurately be called the sickness care system) is that the provider does not have to price services according to the patient’s ability to pay. Since the payor is almost always a third party (with very deep pockets), there is no natural limit to what the provider can charge. Of course they in turn have to battle with insurance companies and TPAs (as do the insured/patients). It’s a nightmare. I stay out of the system to the extent possible and hope to keep it that way.


  5. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I was delivered by a country doctor but it wasn’t a home birth. I was born in a hospital about 50 miles from where we lived at the time. I don’t know what he charged for the delivery and both my parents are gone so I have lost the ability to find out. Back then before modern day medicine, college was not required to be a doctor. They went to a doctor school that I liken to a trade school in today’s world. There were no astronomical school loans to paid back or expensive office spaces to be paid for. My country doctor had his office right in his home. Well, that is when he wasn’t making house calls. He was just a part of the community and carried his medical bag with him just in case where ever he went.

    Granted the medical knowledge and skill today can not really be compared to those of 80 years ago but the spiraling costs of the healthcare business (and it is a business for profit today) makes my head spin. My appendectomy in January was an hour surgery and one over night stay at the hospital. The bill was half a years income. Granted I have insurance but it seemed just a little steep. All but just a couple rooms were filled on the floor that I was on. It boggled my mind when I did the math and considered how much money was being made on just that floor per day. There were five floors of rooms in that hospital. We have five more hospitals in the city. It’s unbelievable how much money these healthcare conglomerates potentially make in just one day.

    Have a great paying the doctor day.


    • Bill says:

      That’s interesting Dave. I didn’t realize there was a time when doctors didn’t have to first get undergraduate degrees. It was once possible to “read law” as a prerequisite to becoming an attorney, rather than attending law school. Basically you apprenticed with a lawyer. Once upon a time that’s how most lawyers got their education. Now I think Virginia may be the only state that still technically permits it, although I doubt anyone has done it that way in decades.

      The fact that medical expenses and higher education expenses have soared, even in a time when there is otherwise no or little inflation (supposedly) is telling. That’s what happens to prices when the seller and buyer are disconnected. Meanwhile for procedures that are not covered by insurance (such as Lasik surgery) costs have decreased while quality and technology have improved.


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