The tiny town of Edwards, Miss., which is about 16 miles east of Vicksburg, has about 1,500 people who live within easy reach and every last one of them know Doc Landrum. Now 88 years old and spry as ever, he still practices medicine out of the back of his car, a 2007 Toyota Camry. But if the State Board of Medical Licensure has its way, they’ll soon force him to stop.
A compelling story was laid out in the Washington Post on Tuesday and, if I am any judge, it is going to take the wisdom of King Solomon to settle a very unfortunate happenstance. Dr. Landrum, who served in World War II, has been practicing his life’s calling for 55 years. Now he’s dedicating his services to the poor – whether they can pay or not – and to say he makes house calls is an understatement.
He visits with patients in parking lots, at the beginning of their driveway, outside a general store or wherever is agreed after they call him for help.
“I’ve always had a heart for the poor. I grew up poor, and when the doctor would come to see us,” he told the Post’s Peter Holley, “he was always glad to see us. I pictured myself doing that one day. I try to never turn people away – money or no money – because that’s where the need is.”
The Medical Licensure people aren’t saying much about an investigation that could cost Doc Landrum his license. It seems they became concerned when they learned he was treating people out of his car and some feel he is “incompetent,” which is a catch-all phrase Doc Landrum says is used to avoid a specific charge. He doesn’t recruit patients but responds when people have nowhere else to turn.
“If you are going down the highway and somebody is hurt in a car accident, you stop to attend to them. And if you are in a shopping center and somebody is having a heart attack, you stop to help. It is your duty as a physician,” he told the Washington reporter, “and this is no different.”
The people of Edwards agree. A petition is now being circulated after the NBC affiliate in Jackson, WLBT, aired a compassionate story on Doc Landrum. A former nurse, Margie Williams Divinity, has even written to the state Medical Examiners.
Her letter reads, in part:
“I beg the state board of medicine to allow Dr. Landrum to continue practicing medicine. He is one of the smartest physicians still practicing. His knowledge base is vast. His diagnosis are always on point and he refers patients and always follow up with his patients. He cares about people, about treating them.
“He doesn’t care about all of the billing insurances and Medicare and all of the politics associated with medicine. He just wants to help people. He is still very sharp mentally at 88 probably because he did not let all of this political monopoly on healthcare stress him out by not continuing to partake. He is 88 (years old.) Let him do what he enjoys and at the same time continue to serve his community…”
H. Vann Craig, the executive director of the state Medical Examiners, said simply, “The mission of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure is to protect the public.”
Supporters of Doc Landrum contend the physician is doing exactly that. He seems five or six patients a week, usually people he served when he had an office and, he claimed, “We’re dealing with just the immediate problem. It isn’t a general physical examination, but things like sore throats, flu symptoms or skin rashes. I tell them, if you’re not better day-to-day, call me. And I give them my number.”
Carroll Frazier Landrum grew up picking cotton in Mississippi during the Depression. During World War II he was a sonar tech on a destroyer in the South Pacific and served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He then went to Tulane, got his medical degree, and had a private practice for half a century.
But he told the Post’s Holley this week, “After all these years, I still want to be like the small-town doctor who treated us when we were growing up – Dr. Coursey. He was good and always happy. There never was a time when he treated anyone like they were not someone.”
So, you see, it is going to take King Solomon to rule on this one. Doc Landrum, a small-town doctor in Mississippi, is two years shy of his 90th birthday and all he wants to do is “treat anyone” like they were someone, which should be the goal of every human being on this very day.