Late on a gray afternoon, Dr. Randall McGlaughlin adjusts his wide-brimmed hat with a feather in the band and tugs his medical bag from the back of his car on the way to his first house call of the day. In 1992. Honest.
Here he is, a few months shy of his 71st birthday, and he's still making house calls to patients up and down the Pasadenapeninsula, probably one of the last doctors in Maryland who does such things.
"I think there are a few physicians who make house calls," he says. "But I don't know how many."
McGlaughlin estimates he sees 75 patients -- most of them housebound or bed ridden -- regularly. "It's a necessity for a doctor to make house calls," he says, because so many patients can't get to him.
Take, for example, Nora Lampe, who has had multiple sclerosis for years. She has braces on both her legs.A wheelchair is parked by her bed, but she can't even pull herself upright when McGlaughlin arrives for a visit.
"Now, you can see howmuch trouble it would be for her to come see me," the doctor says ashe checks her pulse. "They'd have to get a private ambulance to get her to my office, or the hospital, and then get her back home."
She calls him a "lifesaver" and a "great humanitarian" whose care for his patients is "more personal" than others might be. "And he doesn't care about money," she adds. "He cares about people."
McGlaughlin shrugs and smiles, apparently a little embarrassed by the praise. "Well, I never said I went into this to become wealthy," he demurs.
It's been 40 years since he opened his practice in the lavender rancher across Mountain Road from Jacobsville Elementary School. He was an Army doctor at Fort Meade, finishing his hitch and not sure whether to go back home to Delta, Pa., or stay in Maryland.
A physician in private practice in Gambrills told him they needed doctors who practiced family medicine in the area.
"Well, I had a wife and two kids and another on the way, and I needed work," he recalls. "So I took his advice, and I can't say I've been sorry about that."
Then, he charged $2 for an office visit, $3 for a house call. Of course, he charges more now, but he won't say how much.
For 10 years, he was the only doctor on the Hog Neck Peninsula. He's treated six generations of several families. He's visited a man who lived so far back in the woods that he had to abandon his car and ford a stream to get to the man's house. There were families who lived on boats and marinas in Rock Creek. There was also a couple on the Eastern Shore who drove all the way to Pasadena for checkups. And once, he went to Trappe to see them.
There was even a woman sent home from the hospital with a failing heart. Her doctors gave her six to eight weeks to live. McGlaughlin looked in on her once a week for the next 25 years.
"It got tobe a social visit as much as a professional visit," McGlaughlin recalls.
Late on a Friday afternoon, he will stop first to see Elba Chairs, 86, who has Alzheimer's disease.
Once, she was lively and vivacious. She worked on the family farm and "was always active," McGlaughlin says. Now, she lies in a hospital bed in what once was the dining room of her son's house near Long Point Mall, tethered to an intravenous line.
"How you doing? How've you been?" McGlaughlin asks as he pats her arm. She says nothing, but her wide, blue eyes follow him all over the room.
Her son, Monroe Chairs, 66, watches from thehall. McGlaughlin has treated him and all his relatives since he first opened his practice here. "We've been happy with him ever since," Chairs says.
And he's grateful that the doctor makes house calls. Getting his mother to his office "would be prohibitively expensive."
McGlaughlin writes a prescription and schedules his next visit, then heads for Lampe's house. Later there will be other patients, some disfigured with diseases that pull their bodies in odd directions, all of them unable to get out of their houses if not their beds.
"You know," he says, "you look around and you see so much misery in the world, if you're fortunate enough to have your health, you should be thankful. And you ought to try to do something about it."