A doctor takes his own advice

Figuratively and literally, Don Hodson is a lifesaver. In an era in which physicians come and go as fast as doctor shows on a fifth-rate TV network, he has been Marion’s ever-present doctor for 32 years — the only doctor some young families have ever known. He could have earned more money, more fame, and more time off elsewhere, but he dutifully stood behind scores of patients who consciously owe him their life and a community that, perhaps unconsciously, owes him the same debt.

A sometimes outspoken iconoclast, he has been not just a healer but also a leader in the hometown he adopted as a young man. His more than three decades of practice brought health not only to his patients but also to a hospital that otherwise might have suffered the fate of far too many rural health care facilities. The man who reputedly once registered for access to this newspaper’s website under the name “Aldous Huxley” brought a positive brave new world to medical care in a community struggling to transition from the days of community fixtures to interchangeable parts in its health care delivery system.

A visit to his practice was so unlike a trip to an antiseptic but uncaring, bottom-line-focused HMO that people in Marion have a hard time even recognizing complaints about doctor visits that are commonplace elsewhere. No insurance? No problem. Special lower fees were available. No appointment? Also no problem. Care was provided as needed, not just as was convenient for his practice.

After nearly a third of a century of being tethered to that practice, he more than merits the bit of slack he now seeks as he continues in medicine and continues in Marion but no longer will continue his separate practice. He wanted his announcement this week to be a private one — a quiet discussion with friends Tuesday night, followed by nothing more than a letter to the community in this week’s newspaper. The letter we received on Monday was so stunning that we unknowingly jumped the gun, asking some of his closest friends for reaction even before he had told them. We had no way of knowing he hadn’t told them, but he deserved to be able to make his announcement on his own terms, and we’re sorry for whatever part we played in disturbing those plans. As Huxley wrote, the more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline toward the religion of solitude.

Marion will have to learn to live without Don Hodson’s clinic but fortunately not without Don Hodson. Residents would do well to heed his advice about finding a replacement for him among local health care providers, and St. Luke Hospital would do well to follow his leadership in attempting to preserve the institution of his clinic within the community. As for Hodson, it is time for him to heed advice he has given to countless patients — slow down, enjoy life and, as Huxley would note, develop an youthful spirit of enjoyment long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.

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