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How it Started: A Story of Dr. Lester R. Hegg

“Technology is a wonderful marvelous thing but it can never replace the good old country doctor.
My doctor was Dr. LR. Hegg who practiced in Rock Valley, Iowa. He was a sincere dedicated doctor who always had his patients needs on his mind. Dr. finished his degree at the University of Chicago in 1930. He started his career serving at an Indian reservation in South Dakota. In 1932 he heard of an opening in Rock Valley, Iowa and started his practice in a small office above the furniture store. He was then the only doctor in the area for much of the time.

Soon we entered into the great depression and people had a difficult time to pay their bills. Dr. Hegg was always looking out for the other guys pocketbook. He did not spend money on himself and always considered his patient’s financial status. Times were difficult and many bills never were paid.

Sometime later Dr. Hegg built a conservative brick building on the north end of Mainstreet in Rock Valley. It contained only the necessities. There was no receptionist-no nurse-no accountant-he took care of it all himself. He was strictly business and by his looks, one when never know he was the doctor. I remember him always wearing a hat (kind of bent out of shape) and carrying a doctor bag. The waiting room consisted of benches (with no backs) lining the three walls and were usually full of people waiting for their turn. (you kept track of when it was your turn and he would open the door and say “next’ and you better move on in. Once in the treatment room, he had time to discuss your ailments and prescribe the best treatment. At this time, there was no penicillin and about all that was available was sulpha. I remember how thankful he was for the new drug.

Dr. Hegg made house calls in town and out on the farms. He delivered many babies in the homes and was often called out for farm accidents or automobile accidents. Remember at this time there were no cell phones-no computers and few land lines.

Sometimes we would wait a couple hours-his telephone would ring and he was called out.

We could go home and try again another day. His office hours were anytime he was not at the hospital in Lemars where his patients were admitted. Lemars was 35 miles from Rock Valley so he spent a lot of time traveling to and from the hospital.

Dr. wrote your office calls in a large book and when we came to pay (often at the end of the year) he’d check his book and consider how much money we had and make his bill fit our wallet. One time it was $89.00 for a family of six for a whole year.

Johnnie Cash wrote a song about the country doctor and the words went like this “He was just a country doctor in a little country town/ Fame and fortune had passed him by though we never saw him frown./As day by day in his kindly way,/he’d serve us one and all./ Many a patient forgot to pay, although Doc’s fee was small./ Though he needed his dimes and there were times that he’d receive a fee/. He’d pass it on to some poor soul that needed it worse than he.

That was truly our Dr. Hegg.

Now I can schedule my medical appointments through the clinics automatize system and drive to the lab-return home and in a few minutes I have the results on my computer but I don’t understand what the report means. I scroll another site but I don’t get it. It was simpler to talk with the doc and know what I should do.

Dr. Hegg was my husband Paul’s doctor and I did not know him when I was a child. I first met him when we planned to marry and at that time a blood test was required. We arrived at his office at seven o’clock P.M. and had to wait our turn in the waiting room. After Paul told him why we were there, Dr. said to Paul, “I’ll do you first.” Dr. drew the blood out of his arm and Paul rushed out the back door of the office and sat under a tree o n the backyard. Dr. said to me, “I knew that would happen.” This all took place in May of 1956.

In 1951 Sioux Center, lowa built a new hospital and now Dr.Hegg could travel there in fifteen minutes-which would give him more time to spend in his office.
He delivered two of our boys and our daughter. When our third boy was to be born (3 weeks late) Dr. had scheduled a vacation. He told me “I am not running out on you-you are not on plan. A Sioux Center doctor will deliver your baby.” That is exactly what happened and when Dr Hegg returned from his vacation-he came to our farm home and checked out the baby. His told me, “You have a big healthy boy” and was on the way back to Rock Valley. What a concerned doctor!!

As my children grew up, Dr. never changed his ways but he became their friend.

Dr. was so thankful for penicillin, since before that the only drug to treat many ailments was sulpha and the side effects were not good! He saw many changes in the medical field during his career.
When I took one of our sons back for his six week check up-I laid him on the table and the baby cried-held his breath and turned blue-I immediately picked him up. Dr. said “don’t worry-he will take another breath when he needs it.” I cried and Dr. said, “You have a mother’s heart” Things changed in my relationship with him-he became my friend and my doctor!

One of our boys fell while running with a pop bottle and needed stitches. Dr.said “The only thing worse than a kid with a pop bottle is an old man on a tractor!”

Our whole family was really sick with colds and I took all the kids in. Dr. said “How is your husband?” I replied, “He is really sick but he had to plow the field.” He gave me two shots of penicillin and told me to give Paul a shot in both arms. I took the shots home but just could not stick it in his arms. My Mom and Dad drove over from Hull and Mom did the job. That would not happen today.

Doctor Hegg helped many babies into the world-cared for them as children, young adults and in the later days. I was there in the last hours when my in-laws passed. He was a man of love and compassion.
In 1967, Dr Hegg was honored as Rock Valley built a hospital and named it Hegg Memorial Hospital. He was also the first to be man of the year in Rock Valley, lowa.

He delivered over 3,000 babies including 22 sets of twins and a set of triplets. He helped many through surgeries, treatments of all kinds, and through sickness and death. He passed away at the age of 69 and was buried in Greenfield Cemetery in the Greenfield Lutheran Cemetery in Harmony, Minnesota. Blessed be the memory of Dr. Hegg.

(Many of you will have your memories of Dr. Hegg to add to these -please do-it fills the heart to recall these good memories.)”

Carole Kleyer (Sioux Center)

 

 

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