Bryson City Tales — Home at Last (Part 3)

THIS IS THE END — the last part of the thirty-second, and last chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ve enjoyed going back to Bryson City with me each week. And, next week, I’ll start posting from the second book in the trilogy, “Bryson City Seasons.” Not only to I hope that you’ll come back to Bryson City with me, but that you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


For a moment the world stopped. Walt, let’s go. Usually it was Mitch speaking. Usually, Mitch would say, “Ray, let’s go!” Here was Ray in Mitch’s place, and me in Ray’s.

Did they trust me?

They must. Wow! What a moment! I felt fully a part of the team. No special ceremony. No certificate of advancement or completion. Just a silent confirmation that I was one of them.

Goose bumps jumped up on my arms.

Nancy slapped a scalpel blade into Ray’s hand, and in one clean motion he sliced from above Susie’s belly button to her pubic bone, all the way to her peritoneum—the lining of the abdomen. Usually he would cut the skin first, then with a second scalpel, the fat. Then any skin or fat bleeders would be carefully and slowly coagulated.

The rectus muscle, the big muscle in front of the abdominal cavity, would then be carefully separated down the middle—and then, and only then, could the glistening, nearly transparent peritoneum be seen. But in life-threatening situations when the abdominal cavity needed to be accessed suddenly, surgeons are trained to get in fast.

Instinctively, Ray and I used forceps to grab opposite sides of the peritoneum sac. Instead of being clear, it was an ugly blackish-purplish color, indicating to us a copious amount of blood beneath. In unison we lifted the sac away from the fragile bowel we knew lay below. Ray made a puncture wound in the sac. “Lots of irrigation, Nancy.”

As the dark blood practically erupted through the opening, we each inserted the index fingers of each of our hands and the four fingers each instantly moved toward a different quadrant of the abdomen, ripping the tissue-thin peritoneum open.

Nancy, using her right hand, began to pour in a large container of warmed saline solution that she had prepared prior to the surgery, while with her left hand she inserted a large suction tube into the abdominal cavity. Ray and I were scooping out large blood clots with our hands.

As Nancy suctioned, I grabbed an abdominal wall retainer and inserted it into the wound—both to hold the edges of the wound open and to protect the now exposed bladder. I could feel the blown-up balloon of the catheter in the bladder. Ray called out, “Louie, the catheter is in good position.”

Louise called back, “We’re getting clear urine, Dr. Cunningham. And don’t call me Louie!”

I could hear Ray snicker as he used towels—called laps—to push the small intestines up into the upper abdomen and hold them in place. As I irrigated and suctioned, Ray quickly located the uterus. Around it was swirling a torrent of bright-red blood.

“Kim, she’s well oxygenated,” Ray instinctively called to his nurse anesthetist. The bright-red color meant that Kim was delivering an adequate supply of oxygen to Susie’s lungs.

Ray lifted the uterus out of the pool of swirling blood with his left hand, a clamp in his right hand poised above the wound. The uterus, shiny and purplish, about the size of a pear, appeared a bit larger than normal. He looked at Susie’s right fallopian tube—it was completely normal.

Ray quickly turned the uterus ninety degrees so that the left fallopian tube came up out of the expanding pool of swirling bright-red blood.

There it was. A mass of purplish-reddish tissue in the middle of the tube—and from that mass spouted a geyser of blood that shot out of the wound and across Susie’s legs.

A new life, conceived in the middle of the tube where egg and sperm had met, for some reason did not travel into the uterus to implant. For some reason it had become stuck in the tube.

Maybe there was a scar in the tube from a previous infection. Maybe Susie was born with that fallopian tube being narrower than usual. But for whatever reason, the new life, stuck in the tube, had implanted there and had begun to grow. It may have been growing for four weeks, maybe eight weeks—rarely longer.

But finally the tube could no longer hold the expanding life. The tube had ripped open, and the blood-rich pregnancy began to hemorrhage. The preborn child quickly died, but the hemorrhage continued— and, in Susie’s case, intensified.

Before she knew what had hit her, over half of her entire blood supply had drained into her abdomen, robbing the oxygen and blood pressure that her brain needed, and she fainted—all in all an uncommon but not rare presentation for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.

In a flash Ray passed the jaws of his clamp in front and behind the tube, right next to the uterus, and closed the jaws. Immediately the bleeding stopped. I could hear an audible sigh from behind his mask. “Thank God,” he whispered. I echoed his relief. I continued to irrigate and suction, and in a moment the blood in the pelvis was gone.

“Ha, I knew it. Boys, I knew it. Couldn’t be anything else,” bragged our senior observer from the head of the table. “I think she’ll be fine. While you boys are moppin’ up, I’m gonna go join my beautiful bride for lunch.”

As he turned to leave, he commented, “Kim, Peg, Nancy . . . ,” he paused for effect. “Well done!”

He began to move, then stopped in his tracks and turned to Louise, who was sitting on a stool by the wall. “Oh, and Louie . . . ,” he snorted, “good to see you.” He began to laugh.

“That’s not funny, Dr. Mitchell. You can just go ahead and leave my hospital right now. You go ahead and get out of here. These young boys don’t need your poor example. You’ve been here far too long not to know better. You’re about to get me irritated and mad. So get on out of here, you hear?”

Mitch was just laughing, his eyes sparkling behind his surgical mask as he looked back over at me and winked. “Louise, I’m leaving. But there’s not a lot I have to teach these young university-trained docs anyway.” Then he was gone.

We closed Susie up. By the time she was in the recovery room, her hematocrit was over thirty, and her vital signs were normal. Her left fallopian tube was resting comfortably in a small container of formaldehyde. The pathologist would in a day or two confirm the ruptured tubal pregnancy. Susie would recover—and go on to have s everal more children.

As I walked back to our house, I decided to take a detour to look at the new office building. It was coming along nicely. The Norwegian spruce we had planted after Christmas was doing well, with plenty of new growth. The view from the office up the Deep Creek Valley was magnificent. I couldn’t wait to move in.

I made my way back to our little house by the hospital and went around back to sit on our bench. I was looking out over the Smoky Mountains. I could just begin to see the change in the colors of the leaves—or was it only my imagination? Nevertheless, before long the hills would be ablaze again, as they were one year ago, as they had been for countless falls and would be for the falls of the future. I took a deep breath. The clean, crisp air was cool in my lungs—the mountains and the seasons appearing to me as they had to my professional predecessors for over a century.

After that day I was no longer the same. My initiation into this small town was complete. I felt fully on board with the medical team and was beginning to feel a welcome part of this small, closed mountain community. I also felt an intense admiration for a group of aging but skilled physicians who had taught me so many lessons that could never be learned from a textbook.

My life now bore the thumbprint of the folks of Bryson City. Their pleasures and tragedies, their wisdom and faith, their traditions and stubbornness, their loyalties and wounds, their preferences and prejudices—all had shaped the man, the husband, the father, and the physician that I was becoming.

I now knew why they called it the practice of medicine. And I was coming to understand that my skills in medicine, in faith, and in life itself would never be mastered. I’d just have to keep practicing and practicing and practicing . . .



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2020. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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4 Responses to Bryson City Tales — Home at Last (Part 3)

  1. Sonya Trawick England says:

    I have the 1st 3. Is this #4? Bryson City is my As a young R.N. (1964)! Iworked at Swain Hospital so, I recognised most of what you described.
    I have purchased and shared your books with so many, I have lost count. I have always been a friend of Focus on the Family so, I recognised your name. My prayer is that God is and will continue to bless you and you and your family

  2. Hi Sonya,

    “Bryson City Tales” is the first of the trilogy. The second is “Bryson City Seasons” and the finale is “Bryson City Secrets.” Next week I’ll start posting from “Bryson City Seasons.” Glad you’ve enjoyed them.

    Also, I have two novels I’ve written about Swain County in the 1920s: “Hazel Creek” and “Sugar Fork.” I hope you enjoy them also.


  3. Sonya Trawick England says:

    I have them also.

  4. So good to hear. I’m currently working on a World War II book. A different genre, to be sure, but it’s what I hope will be a fascinating look at an amazing group of soliders.


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