The Time Capsule | Roy Marshall

Dr. B.J. England’s memorial service, held last week, concluded with the family band playing “When the Saints go Marching In,” a song they said he’d taught them as soon as they learned which end of a horn to blow into.

The tribute, depicting his zest for life and family, his music and profession, was fitting and well done, conducted with the good humor Doc was noted for. There’s little to add other than a word from a patient’s perspective.

I met Dr. England 50 years ago last April. I know the exact date because I broke my ankle the day after Martin Luther King was killed. I was young, healthy; hadn’t seen a doctor since one brought me into the world. I was taken to a physician in Atlantic who X-rayed the ankle, said it was broken and needed a cast. He, however, would only do a cast for regular patients and wasn’t taking new ones. We went to the hospital emergency room, where another X-ray was taken, another doctor said it needed a cast but this was a simple fracture and not an emergency. I should see a doctor. He said there was one in Griswold who might do it.

Doc England put me on a chair in the back room, propped my shin on one bucket and mixed plaster in another. As he wrapped and plastered I told him of the difficulty I’d had in getting someone to do the job.

He laughed and nodded toward the mess. “Most doctors would rather--” and here he said something unprintable, “than put on a cast.” I laughed, and probably did so every time I was in the office.

The decor was 1950s and changed very little through the years. He added pictures as grandchildren were born, posted the warning signs of depression and abuse and that sort of thing. When Viagra came on the market he acquired an advertising clock and hung it on the wall of an examining room. “Stop by someday at noon,” he said. “That’s the only time it chimes.”

He retained antiques his predecessor had abandoned, including an odd steel chair; a chair that seemed a bit small and had arms and a headrest. There came a day when I asked the original purpose. Doc explained that it had been designed to restrain children while their tonsils were removed. It hadn’t been used for that in decades and never would again, but was a solid chair and he saw no reason to replace it.

England was up to date on his training and techniques; old-fashioned in the way he practiced. He didn’t make appointments. If you needed to see him go in and he’d get to you. Phone the office and he often answered. He routinely gave patients his cell phone number and took calls anytime. He always had a story. These he told with such gusto and animation that when he said “Stop me if you’ve heard this” you never did, no matter how often. His voice carried, the panel walls were thin and I’d sometimes know the joke of the day before seeing him. He loved to talk family and music and once launched into a discussion of toupees. He’d just gotten a new and better one and was proud of it. I asked why he bothered when bald was in style. He said it was a concession to vanity; he liked a head of hair and was willing to pay the price.

He had ailments himself, including some I’m not aware of, told me 10 years before closing that he was going to. He had things he wanted to do and tried to retire but kept coming back. His patients needed him. I suspect he needed them as well.

Roy Marshall is a local historian and columnist for the Red Oak Express. He can be contacted at  

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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