The '$5 doctor' practices medicine from bygone era

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 2:17 am •  Published: November 14, 2012

These days, though, it takes all his energy just to rise before 7 a.m. to head to the hospital, then to his office and back to the hospital, where the "Doctors' Dictating Lounge," named for his father, is set up with a desk and a cot for the occasional nap.

On Thursdays, Dohner closes his office at noon, but even then, he heads to the local nursing home to visit residents. On Sundays, he sees patients before church and stops by the hospital afterward.

He's there, indeed, like clockwork. But as much as townspeople have grown to count on him, they also worry, as he's become increasingly frail.

"He's going to be dearly missed, not just in town but the three- or four-county area around the town, you know, because people come from all over just to him," says Robert Utter, a 37-year-old emergency medical technician who's been a patient since he was a small boy.

The doctor's staff is aging, too. One of his nurses, Rose Busby, is 86. His secretary, Edith Moore, who grew up living next door to the Dohner farm, is 85.

"You been here before?" Moore asks many patients who step up to the office window to sign in throughout the day.

Though she may not remember everyone, she's not surprised when they answer, "Yes."

"Everybody in the world has been here before," she says, somehow managing to find each patient's index card in the filing cabinets that run down the hallway. "They're full," she says.

Moore is the one who collects the $5 fee when the patients leave — though a few times a day, Dohner tells her "never mind" and tries to quietly let a few go with no charge. Patients sometimes protest.

"Next time, I'll pay $20!" one insists. But it's clear that this patient and others are grateful, and often relieved.

Few doctors today could practice medicine the way Dohner does.

"I don't hardly make enough to pay my nurses," he concedes with a chuckle.

Most of his income comes from the farm that his family still owns and that is now run by a nephew. So, although he never became a farmer, the farming life made it possible for this country doctor to maintain his practice, his way.

And he intends to keep it going as long as he possibly can.

"As long as I can make it up here, I'll help if I can," says Dohner, who has no plan to retire. Medical colleagues keep a watchful, caring eye on him.

He notes that his mother lived into her mid-90s. "I guess I don't know anything else to do," he says.

During a visit to Culbertson Memorial Hospital, he stops to see Virginia Redshaw Wheelhouse, a 97-year-old patient. Her eyes open when she hears his voice. The doctor holds her hand and pats her shoulder.

Afterward, stammering but determined to get the words out, she says, "I pray he lives to be 99," as her daughter-in-law, Cathy Redshaw, nods.

"There's no words to describe what he does for people and the effect he has on people," says Cindy Kunkel, a registered nurse at the hospital, where Dohner spends many evenings on "second rounds," as she calls them.

She recalls working the night shift and seeing him pull into the hospital drive, often with a patient in his car.

"He may have his slippers on, but he would have his hat and his suit on," Kunkel says, smiling. "And he would bring a patient in that needed to be put to bed and taken care of."

Stephanie LeMaster, who grew up in Rushville, remembers interviewing Dohner for a school report when she was in fourth grade. Before then, she'd planned on being a nurse, like her mom and grandmother before her. But that interview changed everything, she says.

Dohner became a role model — and now she is a first-year medical student at Southern Illinois University.

"They tell me I should be the next Dr. Dohner, but I'm not sure I can live up to him," LeMaster says. "He's the only one like him."

___

Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/irvineap