By Warren Longmire, M.D.
Most people who come into medicine want to help others. They have a strong desire to give prompt, friendly, medically accurate, and full service to those in need. With this concept in mind, I offer these reflections on 30-some years of participation in the Physician of the Day program, in which family physicians volunteer to treat people at the state Capitol when the Legislature is in session.
When we began, many legislators were very suspicious of us. They frequently asked, “What do you want for all this care you are giving?” The best answer we had was, “when we figure out just what is needed, we will share it with you.”
The first memory of the location at the beginning of the “Capitol first aide station” was in the west side of the basement of the Capitol. It was made from the west eight feet of the ladies restroom. The partition was only a single sheet of quarter-inch plywood. It made for some very interesting conversations as the ladies tended to nature’s calls.
When they began to complain to their bosses about hearing all the complaints of those in the first aide station, it was amazing how quickly we were relocated to the first floor of the Capitol. It only took two years. But the new space did have four rooms, one for the waiting room, one for the examinations, one for the supplies and one for the nurse’s station. There was even a great view of the northwest Capitol grounds. This was just across the hall from the state troopers’ security office.
We took many great and grand tours of the entire Capitol, from the basement to the top of the dome. I remember there were two secret rooms above the Senate and House, which were used in case of Indian attacks, each with a single doorway. The outside walk around the rotunda was always a great treat for newcomers. The older guards had many wild tales to tell, although I’m sure they embellished many of them.
The early attendings were all great family doctors. We all brought our own black bags, and usually many sample medications. Sam Nixon, Bonnie Westbrook, Weldon Kolb, Jim Bob Brame, Ed Franks, Harold High, Jack Haley and many, many others shared their ideas about what Texas medicine really needed with legislators, sometimes even when not asked for their opinions. I am just as guilty as anyone. Usually they let us know they were happy to hear a new viewpoint, even though they did not always agree with all our ideas.
Visitors to the Capitol were always astounded that they got care that did not cost them anything. The nurses who helped us were really the backbone of the operation. Vera Taylor gave many years of her really loving nature to all who came to the office. Tim Flynn has done a great job of continuing the care during the off-years for the employees at the Capitol.
Since the first aide clinic was relocated to the “catacombs,” the assigned parking space has been a welcome addition to the facility. My second visit after relocation was very exciting. I was in such a rush to get back to Hitchcock, Texas that I left my bag in the station. When I got near my car the overhead speaker, announced, “Doctor, you left your bag in the office. Just stand still and someone will bring it to you.” Needless to say, I never did that again.
Taking medical students was a great treat for all involved and most of those who visited were impressed such young people were interested in medicine. The students always were impressed with the welcome on the floor of the House, where the Physician of the Day is introduced complete with pictures, then a repeat in the Senate at 11 a.m. Every one of them was astounded that we were so welcome on the floor of the House, but could not enter that “sacred space” in the Senate without our senator escorting us into the inner sanctum.
Some of those treated wrote nice letters to their representatives and senators about their care. Usually we got copies of these, with a comment about how much it improved the public’s appreciation of their Capitol.
To serve as physician to the National Governor’s Conference in Houston was a direct result of our service to the State of Texas. When I served as the TAFP president, I visited Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas to explain what the Doctor for the Day program was all about, and how it directly led to the passage of the residency funding law in our state.
If I could offer a comment to the younger physicians, do not miss out on this chance to learn and serve your state and all of medicine. I thank God, my family and my colleagues for having had the privilege to serve our profession at our state Capitol. I hope someone will write a history of our chapter’s activities so that when we old guys are gone there will be some record of how we loved our chapter.
There is still time to sign up to serve as a Physician of the Day during the 81st Texas Legislative Session. To read more information, sign up or view the online calendar of available dates, go to www.tafp.org/advocacy/get-involved/physician-of-the-day. Or contact TAFP at (512) 329-8666 or email@example.com.