Bryson City Tales — The Arrival (Part 2)

This is from the second chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.

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THE ARRIVAL – PART 2

 “What is it, honey?” asked my startled wife.

“The Douthits. Isn’t that the name of the administrator of the Swain County Hospital?”

“I think so. Why?”

“Do you think this might be their house? Shouldn’t we stop in and say hi?”

“Might not hurt.”

I put the car in reverse and pulled into the driveway. I went to the door while Barb gently aroused Kate from her slumber. The small ranch-style house was well kept. The yard was nicely manicured with a variety of fruit trees. The garden at the side of the house was a profusion of color—with flowers and vegetables. Someone in this home both loved the land and knew how to tend it.

After knocking a time or two, I could see what appeared to be the woman of the house approaching the front door. There was a small window in the door through which she peered at me, obviously not recognizing me. However, instead of opening the door, she began to walk away. I was perplexed.

Then I heard her call out, “Judy, one of your little friends is here to see you.”

I felt the color rising in my cheeks. Through medical school and residency, professors and teachers always accused me of look- ing too young to be a doctor. This was almost always the first comment of any new patient I saw—a source of considerable irri- tation for me. I wanted to look older, more distinguished. But my youthful appearance wouldn’t cooperate with my ambition.

Soon a striking young woman, who appeared to be in her late teens or early twenties, bounded to the door. Clearly she was gleeful about whomever she thought might be at the door. Without looking through the window, she flung the door open. She was in full smile, her shoulder-length dark hair glistening in the sunlight as she playfully tossed it back. Then her eyes met mine and took on the look of confusion. She quickly realized that I was not the eagerly anticipated visitor and that she, in fact, had no idea who I was. The smile melted into a frown, and she slammed the door shut.

I thought, This is awfully strange behavior! As she disappeared down the hall, she called out, “Dad, I don’t have a clue who that is at the door.” All was quiet for a moment or two. I didn’t know whether to knock again or to leave. As I was pondering the options, a man rounded the corner and headed toward the door. Like his wife, he gazed through the window at me and, like her, looked equally perplexed. At least he opened the door.

He was a handsome middle-aged man, executive appearing in looks but dressed in casual slacks and a crisp short-sleeved Oxford shirt. “How may I help you, young man?” he inquired. By now, Barb was walking toward the door, with Kate in her arms. He glanced at her, and then his countenance softened and he began to smile. Before I could answer, he asked, “Are you Dr. Larimore?”

I was relieved to see that we had very likely chosen the right home. “I am! I am indeed.” Barb was now at my side. “This is Barb and our daughter, Kate.”

“Come in. Please come in.”

As we entered, he called out, “Margie, it’s the Larimores!” He showed us into a small but comfortable living room with a picture window revealing a spectacular view of the Alarka Mountains, which lay south of town. There wasn’t a building or structure in sight. I was mesmerized by the striking panorama.

“Please. Please make yourselves comfortable,” Mr. Douthit said. “I knew you were coming in tonight. The Shells are expect- ing you at the inn.”

As we took a seat on a plush couch, a friendly and pleasant- looking woman appeared from the kitchen carrying a tray of iced tea and drinking glasses.

“Dr. and Mrs. Larimore,” our host said, “this is my wife, Margie.”

As she placed the tray on the coffee table, her smile was radi- ant, and we could see where Judy’s smile had come from. “It is so good to meet you,” she declared as she shook our hands. “Please make yourself at home. I’ve brought some sweet tea, and I’ll bring some cookies in a moment.” She glanced over at Kate, resting in Barb’s arms. “And who is this?” inquired Mrs. Douthit.

“This is Kate,” Barb answered. “She’s almost two years old.”

“Earl and I can’t wait to be grandparents, but I’m afraid that’s a few years away. James and Judy are both in college and haven’t found their spouses just yet.” Margie’s friendly chatter put us at ease, and we leaned back in the couch and began to enjoy an unhurried visit with the Douthits.

Earl had been the administrator of the hospital since its inception, he told us. It was chartered as a not-for-profit community hospital in 1948 with one idea in mind: offering top- quality medical care to the people of Swain County and the surrounding areas from conception until death. Swain County Hospital opened its doors two years later, in 1950, with twenty beds, and had expanded several times to its current capacity of forty beds. Earl smiled as he related the rather difficult childhood the hospital had endured. Now, as a growing young adult, the hospital was administered by an all-voluntary community-based board of trustees. I smiled at his analogy.

Earl suddenly looked very serious. He gazed out the win- dow for a moment and then back at me. “Dr. Larimore, I want to be honest with you. We’ve had a lot of doctors come and go, so we want you to see our town up close—the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you like it, if you feel called here, then we can definitely use another physician. But if it’s not your style, I don’t want you or Mrs. Larimore to be embarrassed to tell us so. We’re not just looking for a doctor; we’re looking for the right doctor. Someone we like, and someone who likes us.”

This was definitely a unique approach. Most of the other hospital recruiters we’d met were intent on selling their community to us. They wanted us there—period, no matter what. This man seemed different, and I appreciated his candor and found it refreshing. For the next hour, he told us about the town. He explained the background and personality of each of the town’s current four general practitioners and two general surgeons. He laid out the hospital’s plans for expansion to a more modern facility and the board’s desire to have new physicians who were well trained in family medicine—who could care for patients in the intensive care unit or the emergency room, who could care for children and families, who could deliver babies and provide surgical services. He explained that they were looking for well- trained generalists—not specialists.

This was music to my ears. Physicians who practice general medicine typically are entirely different creatures than those who specialize. They are trained differently, they think differently, and they practice differently. The specialist has to know everything about a narrow field of medicine—especially the rare and uncommon disorders within their area of focus. The generalist must know the common—the breadth, if you would, of medi- cine. The specialist cares for a single organ system, age-group, or gender—the generalist the entire family within his or her com- munity. I recalled the observation of the famous internist Sir William Osler, who was reported to have said, “A well-trained, sensible family doctor is one of the most valuable assets in a com- munity.” The more Earl talked about what the local hospital was looking for, the more I knew that this town could be exactly what we were looking for.

Suddenly he stood, subtly indicating that our visit was over. “Well, I’ve kept you two far too long. We’ll have plenty of time to visit tomorrow. You ought to get up to the inn. John and Ella Jo can’t wait to meet you.”

He then approached me and almost whispered, “John and Ella Jo have really been behind the move to bring some new young doctors into the area. Not everyone agrees with them, especially some of our older doctors. But they can tell you more about this.”

As we said good-bye and got in the car, Barb expressed my thoughts. “Walt, what are we getting into?”

“I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.”

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

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© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. 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.