DURANT — If it's a gross question, they're usually asked in the frozen food aisle.
Drs. Melissa and Jeff Gastorf have the same challenge as many small-town doctors — they can't go to Walmart without seeing at least one patient with at least one question.
Weird questions about rashes while picking up groceries are just part of the job, though.
The Gastorfs, who are married, have operated their family clinic in Durant for about eight years. They completed their residency, one of the requirements for medical school, in Durant and decided it would be a good place to raise children.
“We love the town,” Jeff Gastorf said.
Durant, in Bryan County, has about 17,000 residents and is home to Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the Choctaw Casino Resort.
The Gastorfs say one of their main challenges is getting a patient to a specialist.
“The COPD'ers don't go to the pulmonologist until their end stage because being able to get them in is difficult,” Jeff Gastorf said. “We have to take care of conditions a lot longer than a primary care doctor in the city does.”
This is a substantial problem, considering chronic lower respiratory diseases are one of three leading causes of death in Bryan County. And the prevalence of asthma in Bryan County is about 60 percent higher than the national rate and 40 percent higher than the state rate.
Durant is home to the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma, which offers specialists the region might not otherwise have close by.
But, it's not enough to meet the demand.
Bryan County has one of the largest shortages in full-time health care employees, according to Oklahoma State University Center for Rural Health. And about 25 percent of residents younger than 64 do not have health insurance.
“Sometimes even if we can get them up to Oklahoma City or Tulsa and get the appointment made, some of our patients don't have a way to get up there,” Melissa Gastorf said. “We end up treating them for as long as we can. There's no other choice.”
— JACLYN COSGROVE, Staff Writer