Doctor Zimmerman

When I was growing up in the small Potomac River town of Williamsport, Md., in the 1940s, nobody had health care plans. When anybody in my family was sick, we went to see Dr. Zimmerman. There was another doctor, but I knew nothing of him; as far as I was concerned, Dr. Zimmerman was the town doctor.

Dr. Zimmerman was a gruff, no-nonsense man who spent all day on the road making house calls, then held office hours after supper. That is, almost every waking hour on weekdays and a good part of weekends was spent in his medical practice. He was not the kind of doctor who took an afternoon off during the week to play golf.

In those days people who were sick in bed normally expected to be cared for at home, and expected their doctor to come see them. You only went to the hospital for surgery or for what is now called intensive care.

His office was on the ground floor of his home. It had an unmistakable doctor’s-office smell, something has now vanished from the world – a mixture of one part body odor, three parts antiseptic and something else that was undefinable. He had no nurse, secretary or receptionist. Of course, he did not have to concern himself with third-party reimbursement; he billed his patients himself, and they either paid him or they didn’t

When I was a small boy, I’d get the sniffles every winter, and I would be sent to Dr. Zimmerman’s office. His treatment consisted of putting a small cotton ball on the end of a piece of stiff wire, soaking the cotton ball in what looked like Mercurochrome and sticking the antiseptic up my nostril. I still remember the burning, stinging sensation, and how proud I was that I didn’t cry out or jerk my head.

One night I was the last patient in his office. When I walked out the door, I remembered I had left my comic book in the office, and went back and rang the doorbell. Dr. Zimmerman, in pajamas, stuck his head out of an upstairs window and snarled, “What do you want?”

In three minutes it had taken me to exit and turn back, he had gone up to his bedroom and changed for bed. That’s how exhausting his work day was, and how much he was in need of rest.

I learned of Dr. Zimmerman’s death when I was away in college in the 1950s. My parents sent me a newspaper clipping telling what happaned. He was injured in an automobile accident, and died treating the injuries of others injured in the accident.

I will always respect the memory of Dr. Zimmerman for his life of dedication and self-sacrifice. At the same time, I don’t believe in a system that requires self-sacrifice to keep it going.


2 Responses to “Doctor Zimmerman”

  1. Joyce Ireland Says:

    Thanks for reminding me of Doctor Zimmerman. A trip down memory lane for me.


  2. tldlcm Says:

    Thanks for sharing memories about Dr. Zimmerman. My parents brought Dr. Zimmerman’s house from his daughter so it was nice to read about the person who had previously owned the house.


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