HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Feb. 20, 2006

Dr. Dan Johnson retiring after 42 years

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Dr. Dan Johnson of the Cokato Medical Clinic is retiring Tuesday, Feb. 28, after 42 years of practicing medicine in the Dassel Cokato/Litchfield area.

“It was a good time in medicine,” Johnson said.

Johnson, originally from Tyler, Minn., had more opportunities than what doctors just graduating from medical school have now. Not only did Johnson have a family practice, but also practiced obstetrics and did surgery.

“I really enjoyed my time,” Johnson said, listing interacting with the patients as the most enjoyable part.

If a doctor treats patients as disease entities, instead of as people, “You’ve lost them, right then,” he said.

Talking and listening to patients and their vocal inflections, and reading their body language are the art of medicine. The science of medicine is what the doctor learns at medical school and later, when the doctor keeps up with new techniques, procedures and information out in the field, Johnson said.

When he was in medical school at the University of Minnesota he was taught mainly the science of medicine. He didn’t know what was practical and what wasn’t, only that he would be tested on all of it, Johnson said.

After he started practicing medicine in Litchfield he began learning the art of medicine. “It is learnable if you’re willing to do so,” he said.

Reading body language is important because sometimes patients are afraid to talk about what’s bothering them. Johnson watches not only how they sit and stand, but how they move their eyebrows or the corners of their mouths.

“All these things tell you something if you look for them,” Johnson said.

A patient who looks at a door knob instead of the doctor’s face, for example, might be depressed or hiding something, he said.

Johnson estimated it takes about 10 years of practice to learn the art of medicine.

This also is why it’s not a good idea to use an emergency room doctor for a diagnosis. Emergency room doctors have only one chance to figure out what’s wrong and as a result, order large numbers of expensive tests. They also don’t know the family of the patient, Johnson said.

Students in medical school now serve in residencies at hospitals and have more of a chance to learn practical medicine before they get out in the field, he said.

Although Johnson started in Litchfield, he frequently came to Cokato to cover the clinic for Dr. Ted Greenfield. Greenfield was a character, Johnson said. He was the only person Johnson knew who wore spats on his shoes, he said.

Cokato had its own hospital then, “a big old house,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s favorite part of his practice was obstetrics. He estimated he has delivered more than 2,300 babies.

Johnson told a story about a couple from Cosmos who already had five sons. The wife was about to give birth to a sixth child. Johnson said if the baby was a girl, the couple had to pay double, if it was another boy, the delivery would be free. The couple had their first girl.

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When the wife became pregnant again, Johnson jokingly proposed the same “double or nothing,” fee. She had a second girl, he said.

Johnson also delivered numerous sets of twins. Twins are usually born in one out of 90 deliveries, he said.

Eventually Johnson tired of getting up in the middle of the night, one of the disadvantages of obstetrics, so he quit delivering babies. Now most of his patients are elderly people, he said.

It still gives him pause, though, when he sees adults around town whom he remembers delivering.

For the past 20 years, Johnson has worked two days in Cokato and two days in Litchfield a week. He’s leaving his retirement options “wide open” because he has many favorite activities.

“I always liked to play golf,” he said.

He also likes fishing, hunting, cross country skiing and gardening.

Johnson also intends to host a party for the staff of the Cokato and Litchfield clinics.

“If it wasn’t for the employees, we’d be nothing,” he said.

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