The timid, freckled face lad was afraid of doctors and their cold-as-ice stethoscopes. He swallowed hard whenever they asked him to say “ahhh” to welcome a desert-dry tongue depressor which made him gag.

The boy hated it when his mother made those dreaded appointments for check-ups or for an earache that wouldn’t go away. The worst: those allergy shots, which meant he couldn’t play basketball for a few days.

But there was one doctor who changed everything. His name was Dr. Bev Hallam from Burk’s Fall, Ontario. He was a big, rotund man who could barely fit in his office chair during our visits. He had a peculiar laugh; a cross between a penguin and a woodpecker, and he was known for his running sense of humour that never let up. Every time he saw the boy with his mother he’d make some crack about this or that, or how the clinic was so hard up for patients that they started letting in boys with freckles.

Hallam took the fear away like dawn chasing shadows from a New York alleyway.

Soon, the boy didn’t mind those check-ups when the cheery doctor was in, especially when he was given the syringe after his shot, which he often used to squirt water at his sister.

The boy thought it was cool that Dr. Hallam came to his house on a number of occasions to treat his dad who was too sick to go into town. They referred to it as house calls. 

A lot has changed in health care since then. Surgery wait times have increased significantly, and even hospital emergency departments have to shut down periodically due to “lack of physician availability.” The truth is doctors don’t want to work around the clock anymore like they used to, and you can’t blame them. Work/life balance is a key consideration now, as it should be. Who wants to be chained to their desk seven days a week dealing with people’s aches and pains? Doctors have families (and personal lives) too.

Like many regions in BC, the Columbia Valley is trying hard to recruit new physicians while retaining the ones they already have. The competition out there is stiff, and will take more than a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

Speaking of such, that freckled face boy is nearly 60 now and battling his own ailments, but he’s darn lucky that he has a family doctor, unlike many unfortunate people who don’t. He doesn’t run to the doctor for every bump and scratch, and he steers clear of hospital emergency departments unless he’s insanely bored and wants to spend five hours staring at wall posters while waiting for someone to call his name.

Wonder what Hallam would say . . . “I feel faint; is there a doctor in the house?” No? Well, I’ll settle for a janitor then.”

Lyonel Doherty, editor