Ottis Casar, Bass Player

        Ottis Casar was a bass player who lived way up in the country.  He grew corn for “medicinal” purposes.  His great grand-people came here from Scotland, and wanted to get a fresh start, so they changed their last name.  They meant to name the family after Julius Caesar, but misspelled it.  And Ottis was named after his Uncle Otis, but they misspelled that too.

        Ottis was a farmer but he only grew corn, and he became somewhat of a chemist.  For a long time he was odds with the government, but made peace with them near the end when they hired him as a paid consultant on a gasohol project.  His white corn liquor was well known, and won a blue ribbon at the Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention one year.  Moose Dooley is my best friend, and I’ve heard Ottis passed the recipe on to him before he died.  Moose has never told me for sure, and has stayed close to the vest on the subject- says it is a matter of national security.  Ottis worked for the government a while you know.

        I was Ottis’ doctor, and he lived a pretty good long while- 67- if you consider his usual breakfast was BBQ potato chips, a beer and a cigar.  I’m not the greatest nutritionist, but I told him it was too many browns.   He said on Sunday he’d leave off the beer and drink white corn liquor instead, like that made any difference.  On Saturday night, he’d put in some strawberries.  By morning they sat on the bottom of the Mason jar like they’d been weighted down with lead.  Maybe they had been, I don’t know.  I’m a doctor- I wasn’t gonna drink that stuff, even if Ottis did say it was medicine.

        Ottis was a fine bass player, even though he could not read a lick music, or anything else for that matter.  He once met the great Roy Huskey, Jr. and adopted his method to think of music in terms of colors.  Ottis became the local expert at the technique.  He’d say, “Doc, I swear, that line right there calls for a green note, don’t you think?”

        “Whatever you say, Ottis.  It sounds good by me- I ain’t much of a bass player, though.”  Truth was even though I was his Doc for years, I never could get inside Ottis’s head, I had to just accept him for what he was.

        So help me Lord, what I am fixing to tell you is a true story.  One night Ottis came to the ER, and said, “Ya’ll put me in the hospital, I’m gonna have a heart attack ’bout midnight.”  Given his EKG was normal, and he had no symptoms, the ER doc was skeptical.

         “Mr. Casar, I don’t see any reason you have to be in the hospital.  Everything looks fine.”

         “Boy, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking ’bout.  You call Dr. Bibey and tell him Ottis Casar is gonna have  heart attack and to put me in that new ‘tensive care unit.”

        Ottis didn’t have any give up in him, and the ER Doc gave in and called me.  I know he expected me to send the man home, but I said, “If Ottis Casar says he’s fixing to have a heart attack, I wouldn’t bet against him.”

        “He meets no criteria whatsoever.  What is your clinical rationale?”

        “I think he must hear a blue note,”  I said.

        “Huh?”  The ER doc was confused.  There wasn’t enough time to teach him the bass, so I came on over.

        When I got there, Ottis was spittin’ mad.  “Bibey, what kinda young fool Docs y’all hiring nowadays?  If Ottis Casar says he’s gonna have a heart attack, he’s gonna!”

        “It’s O.K., Ottis.  We’ll hold onto you.  Don’t worry.”  There was no objective reason to admit him, but I wasn’t about to send him home.

        Ottis did fine until about midnight, when he had a sudden burst of ventricular fibrillation, and a cardiac arrest.  He was in the right place, though.  They had him shocked back into a normal rhythm before I could crawl out of bed and get back to the hospital. 

        When I walked in the ICU, he sat right up in bed, and said, “Lord have mercy, if Ottis Casar says he’s gonna have a heart attack, a man had better listen.  He’d best listen to Tommy Bibey, too, by God.  You’s the best Doctor in the County.”  Ottis wouldn’t rest till we had the ER Doc come up and apologize, then he settled down.  He did fine for years, but died at home one night.  (This was long before implantable defibrillators.  When they came out the first person I thought of was Ottis Casar.)         

        One thing I might add.  Ottis had Vfib, but technically it was not a heart attack, ’cause his cardiac enzymes were negative, and subsequent studies did not demonstrate any damage to the heart muscle.  I wasn’t about to tell him, though.  Ottis was so stubborn I was afraid he’d have one just to prove me wrong. 

        I never figured out exactly what happened to Ottis that night (and neither did some fine cardiologists) but I think what the ER Doc didn’t get is all Ottis wanted was for someone to listen to him.  (modern folks would say he sought validation, but Ottis wouldn’t a put it that way.)  I’ve read a lot of books and articles since that night, and I still will never know, but it is a good a theory as I can come up with.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: bluegrass characters

16 Comments on “Ottis Casar, Bass Player”

  1. Amber Says:

    I have been able to see in my mother with her A-fib it coming on. I don’t know, I can just tell. There is a hue to her skin that I can see.

    The other day she was moaning about me controlling her meds. So I said ok, you be responsible then. She of course forgot to take her Digoxin for two doses. Next day we went in for a simple blood test, and they did a B/P her resting HB of 155. *eye roll*

    Next thing I know… some young cardiologist is throwing a scrip my way without even seeing her or knowing her history. He didn’t ask me any questions. I didn’t get to see him. So I said to the front desk… Nope, sorry. This doesnt work for me. The little snot nosed Doc came out to me and said “What can I help you with?” I explained Mom’s A-fib and her A plastic Anemia, and the fact that although she does have a pacemaker, her body is ultra sensitive to drugs and we didn’t want to start anything new at this moment, because drugs nearly killed her three times.

    He just looked at me like I was dumb (You gotta know how much I hate that by now). He then informed me that nothing could happen since she now has a pacemaker. I gave him the “Look”. He then said, OK fine, put her back on the Coreg that she was on. My brain was searching – and I knew the Coreg affects platelet counts. Anyway, Mom came home took one Coreg, and I just knew we were in for it. Within.. 1/2 hour of her taking it, I just knew that the only thing keeping her on this planet was that pacemaker. She got the look of going to have a problem going right there. Her HP rate dropped down to 35…

    Now, I bet she wouldn’t have been seen by a machine to be having a problem. Im sure all was working. But there is more to it than that. You feel that butterfly feeling under your skin, and if you have any medical sense at all, you can see it in the patients appearance.

    I bet that is what Ottis felt that night…. you just simply know sometimes. The people who live are the ones who pay attention to those “feelings”. Or maybe their family does…. doesn’t matter really does it? A life saved because SOMEONE was paying attention!

  2. sweetiegirlz Says:

    That’s amazing.

  3. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Amber,

    When a patient has a gut feeling, I always pay attention to their intuition. It has kept me (and them) from getting burned many a time.

    Have a great 4th. I am off and in between music sessions- having fun!

    Dr. B

  4. drtombibey Says:

    ms. sweetiegirlz,

    I have met a lot of interesting people and seen a lot of unusual things happen, but Ottis was near the top of the list.

    He was the only patient of mine who was a moonshiner. (at least that I know of) He was for real, but the guy was like a character out of the ‘Andy Griffith’ show.

    Dr. B

  5. Cindy Carter Says:

    When you grow up in the country, not a whole lot is surprising is it? People just seem to know things that others don’t pick up on. I think it’s because a lot us learned how to read how we actually feel. When you’re poor and live in the country, you just can’t afford to go to the doctor until you know you really need one. However you know, you know.

  6. drtombibey Says:


    That is exactly how Ottis was. When he showed up, I paid attention.

    Hey, check out the 4th of July post. Smitty left a recipe for the chocolate cobbler last night.

    Dr. B

  7. Cindy Carter Says:

    Saw it and gonna try it real soon. My mouth is watering already. Wonder why so many southerners like nanner puddin?

  8. mrschili Says:

    I am a HUGE believer in intuition. We know, instinctively, when we’re just not right. We may not be able to point to something as a cause, or even to adequately describe a symptom, but that doesn’t make the knowing any less valid.

  9. Cindy Carter Says:

    Dr. B, We had a mandolin player in the band in church today. I thought of you. He was pretty good.

  10. drtombibey Says:


    I have two or three ladies at the office who have fabulous intuition. If someone is a rascal they can spot ’em, every time.

    They say I am pretty good for a man, but I ain’t in their league.

    Dr. B

  11. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Cindy,

    Let me know how you like the chocolate cobbler. I’m gonna give a progress report to Smitty.

    Mandolin players are hard to come by. Often they are guitar players who took up the mandolin when they couldn’t find anyone to play it. That was the case for me, and the mandolin became my favorite.

    Dr. B

  12. Cindy Carter Says:

    Will do Dr. B. Plan on trying that recipe this week when I go lay in supplies for the farm.

    The mandolin player looked like he was enjoying himself. We have this one little fella that can play just about anything he puts his hands on. God sure did bless him with talent.

  13. Ted Lehmann Says:

    In a sense, this tale doesn’t surprise me. Bass players have responsibility to maintain the beat for the rest of the band. Years ago I remember hearing Leonard Bernstein, in one of his great children’s concerts on TV, discuss the relationship between the beat of music and the beat of the human heart. Since our music is mostly written in 4/4 and 2/4 time, it’s likely that Ottis has a great connection with the regularity of his internal beat. Since the beat of bluegrass music is completely set and maintained by the bass, it’s regularity is crucial.
    I’m a bit skeptical about intuition. It seems to me that it (like hunches and other insights) is the result of the sub-conscious integration of previous knowledge growing out the minds workings. We don’t fully understand how we integrate what we know, but it happens somewhere deep in our mind, and many see it as somehow miraculous. – Ted

  14. drtombibey Says:


    I agree about bass players. My wife is one, and I have no idea what I would do without her. Bass players are like lineman in football (and no she ain’t built that way) in that they are crucial, but get little recognition.

    As to intuition, I like to think I have some of it, but my wife says the reason I do is cause I read Harrison’s Text of Medicine three times in Med School, and still read like a wild man.

    I have been very lucky, but she would say it is like Lee Trevino, who said, “The more he practice, the luckier I get.”

    Whatever the reason, at church on Sunday, when I pray it is often that I’ll figure out how to do right by my patients. I’m not afraid to make a mistake playing the mandolin, but even after twenty-five years, I fear one for my patients I often don’t know whether prayer, intution, luck, or the latest article might be the difference in a given case, but I’ll take all the help I can get.

    Dr. B

  15. pandemonic Says:

    Sometimes your patients know best.

    It’s like when you hear a ticking in your car engine. Now, my dad was a mechanic in the Army, and he mechanicked after that too. I know my way around a car engine. I hate when I take the car in and tell the man I can hear a squeal here or a squeak there and they look at me like I’m out of my mind.

    Come to think of it, I’ve had some doctor’s visits like that too. I think they are reluctant to treat not so much because they aren’t listening, but because they know the insurance won’t cover it. Then what? You have an angry patient on your hand when the insurance company nixes the treatment.

    All I can say is, he was at the right place for his attack.

  16. drtombibey Says:


    The patient rules. The insurance companies rarely understand patients. They are very good with money though- they have a lot of it, and much power to interfere.

    Yeah, leave it to a bass player to have good timing. Ottis picked his spot well.

    Dr. B

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