House calls

Baltimore Glimpses

March 08, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

DOCTORS don't make house calls -- not in today's era of high-tech, specialized medicine. (And not when they get sued for tracking snow into the house.)

It wasn't always thus, of course. Glimpses looks back fondly on generations of family doctors who not only paid house calls but did it in the middle of the night.

One of them was Dr. Samuel Shipley Glick, who was honored recently at the age of 93 by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Glick is still chipper and garrulous. And he has a remarkable memory. During his years as a pediatric physician and teacher at the medical school, Dr. Glick made as many as 10 house calls every weekday. "And some on Sundays, too," he recalls. "I would start as early as 8 in the morning and still would be making calls as late as 11 at night. These were the days before antibiotics, and we had to deal with many kinds of influenza, along with measles, mumps, whooping cough and rheumatic fever. There weren't emergency room services then, so we set broken bones in the home, too."

Dr. Glick made one of his most memorable house calls on the morning of July 22, 1929. He had taken a phone call from a worried parent, Evelyn McGruder. Mrs. McGruder's 13-year-old daughter, Ruth, was sitting high in a treehouse in the backyard of their home at 5704 Ethelbert Ave. in Pimlico. Ruth was just recovering from scarlet fever, her mother said, and there she was up in the tree. Could Dr. Glick come right over?

Dr. Glick soon learned that the situation was more complicated than it sounded. At the time, a "flagpole-sitting" fad was sweeping Baltimore, only no one really sat on a flagpole. Instead, a kid would climb to the top of a tree, fashion a seat and perch there, determined to outlast all the other kids. Ruth McGruder was one of the more determined of the group.

Dr. Glick remembers: "I arrived at the house and found that someone had placed a ladder there for me to climb up to where xTC Ruth was sitting. I examined her, balancing myself on the ladder. She was in excellent health. I tried to talk her into coming down, but she wouldn't hear of it."

Of course, she eventually did come down -- 10 days later. (And that didn't even put her in the running. Young William Ruppert of Highlandtown sat on his "flagpole" for 55 days!)

Doctors stopped making house calls in Baltimore in the early 1970s. Or did they? Glimpses asked another nonagenarian, Dr. Thomas Turner, retired dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "It would be a rare case indeed if a doctor were to make a house call today," he said. "I never hear of it."

Dr. Glick says: "The practice came to an end because, for one reason at least, the sophisticated machines for diagnosis and treatment that were becoming available couldn't be carried from house to house. Today doctors feel they can render a better service when the patient comes into the office.

"But there was something very special about the doctor's visit. The patient today sits in a waiting room and fills out insurance forms."

Dr. Glick is one of those physicians who loved making house calls. He did it, he says, "right through the riots [of 1968]. If I were practicing today, I guarantee you, I would still be making house calls."

Maybe Bill and Hillary Clinton, scrambling to salvage their health-care plan, should have a chat with Dr. Samuel Shipley Glick.

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