Dr. Vilhelm Johnson
“One of my favorite gnome stories,” said the wizened old gnome storyteller to a gathering of the little people “is the story of the gnome who never left us”. As was traditional, all the gnomes gathered in Riverside Park, seated in the “Gnome moon” formation. This is the story about “Doc Bill.”
Doc Bill was born in Gnometown in August, 1914. His real name should have been Wilhelm, but a few days after he was born, a war stated with “Der Kaiser” (Wilhelm). His mother Clara rushed right over to the hospital and changed his name to Vilhelm. “It was the best I could do”, Clara said. “The ink was already dry on his birthday certificate, so I just changed the ‘W’ to a ‘V’. No little gnome of mine will have to have the Hun for his name-sake.” Gnometown didn’t like that name either, and they called him “Bill” growing up, and later “Doc Bill”.
Bill played basketball and football for Gnometown and was pretty good at it and everyone liked him. In 1932 he headed for Macalester College in St. Paul. He almost didn’t make it. As his father, Dr. H.M. was dropping him off at the college, a big black limousine screamed down the street closely followed by six units of St. Paul’s finest, guns blazing and sirens wailing. (H.M. didn’t believe in ceremony and had literally dumped Bill off on Snelling Avenue.) Bill ducked into Kirk Hall and narrowly avoided meeting up with a bullet on his first day of higher education.
Bill studied hard at Mac, later transferred to the U of M Medical School, and then did his internship in Connecticut. Some of Gnometown worried that the siren call of fat bit-city fees and top-notch medical facilities of the east would lure newly minted “Doc” Bill away form Gnometown. But he was just in the big city long enough to learn to be a first class surgeon and take himself a wife. After all, ducks, dogs, the noble walleye and of course the good people of Gnometown, well, they have a siren call too! “Don’t they Elder?” said the storyteller to the white-haired gnome, who appeared to nod off.
Doc Bill took a wife alright, in 1941. But he didn’t get far on his honeymoon. No, sir! The MPs met him on the highway and headed him for Appleton to examine the troops. A new Kaiser, this time a short little mean one named Adolf, had changed Doc Bill’s life again. Later, when the real fighting started, Doc Bill was Gnometown’s doctor again, in North Africa, in Sicily and up the spine if Italy. Once again, Doc Bill was getting an education while dodging bullets.
After the war, Doc Bill came back home to be Gnometown’s doctor, along with his uncle, Dr. C.M. The years after the war were good ones for Doc Bill, but busy. There was a hospital to run, a clinic and a new hospital to build, and a medical practice that sometimes had four doctors, and sometimes only had one. He also managed time for four children.
He used to say that only 20% of the information needed for a good diagnosis came from the tests; the other 80% came from the patient. He listened and he observed, but more importantly, he explained the course of the treatment to the patient so that it couldn’t possibly be misunderstood.
Once, a stubborn old man living in the hotel came into the clinic complaining of leg pains. Doc Bill asked him to remove his trousers and get up on the examining table. “’Oh my God, this is serious. We will have to do surgery at once! Ina! Donna! Come quickly,” he barked down the hall, “and bring a large surgical scissors!” With his faithful nurses in attendance, and his patient quaking in fear, he neatly cut off both of the man’s too-tight garters. “There,” he said with authority only an experienced surgeon could muster. “For a minute there, I was afraid we were going to lose you, but you’ll be alright.”
Doc Bill’s skill with the bureaucracy, which he picked up in the army, was legendary. The thousands of little victories over insurance companies, the state and federal bureaucracies, in many cases meant the difference between a patient’s rights and his bankruptcy.
None of his politicking was more famous than with the State Certificate for Need Board. Doc Bill had been faithfully trudging down to St. Paul for months to meet with Mrs. Knutsen, who controlled the fate of Gnometown’s new hospital. Bureaucrats, being what they are, felt Gnometown’s medical needs could more efficiently be met in Willmar or Mankato. Of course, Doc Bill knew better, but he could make no headway with Mrs. Knutsen, and her recommendation to the board would be final.
Then one day Shirley Wold presented him with a new tie which she had made. It was a beautiful tie with animals on it. Luckily, he wore it on his next trip to St. Paul. Mrs. Knutsen was completely captivated by the tie and they talked for hours. That day, she decided Gnometown would get its new hospital. “I always believed,” intoned the old gnome storyteller, “If you had a human bone in you whole body, Doc Bill could find it.
But of all these busy activities and interests, he prized above all the study of birds, baseball, the Civil War, the companionship of his Gnometown fellows (especially Elder) and time spent adrift on Lake Lida. Every so often Doc Bill would slip off to the lake to stalk the noble walleye or hunt up a flock of canvasbacks. Less often, he would organize fishing and hunting trips to Canada and the Dakotas with Gnometown’s best (and worst) hunters and fisherman, but always he came back.
As he got older, his health deteriorated. His neuritis made it impossible for him to be on his feet all day, so he took his meals lying down. He kept his pain to himself, but it got bad enough to make him consider on a=offer he received to run a large state hospital. It would have been a cushy desk job, but Doc Bill was no bureaucrat, and he couldn’t leave the Gnometown faithful. So he never left.
Then one day, he left and didn’t come back. On a fishing/hunting vacation by himself one fall, he fell out of his boat and drowned in his beloved Lake Lida. A stunned Gnometown sent rescue parties to drag the lake, and finally, they found him, brought him back home and mourned his passing.
“You see,” the old storyteller said, as he wound down his tale, “Gnometown never had to worry about Doc Bill coming back. He never really left us, even during the war. The best things he ever did, he did for Gnometown. So I figure it was almost as if he never left.”