Bryson City Tales — Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)

This is from the seventeenth 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 and family to join us.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 3.12.40 PM

BECOMING PART OF THE TEAM (PART 1)

I had just finished seeing the last patient on a Monday morn- ing when Dr. Mitchell walked by, reading a chart. He suddenly stopped and whirled around. “Hey, Walt. You going to the game this week?”

“What game?”

He looked astonished and then began to smile. It was a smile I was growing to recognize and despise—a near-sneer of amazement that I was so ignorant as to not know a basic fact of medicine or of town history or of life itself. “You’re kidding me, aren’t you?” he would always ask, adding his classic, “You stupid?”—sometimes verbally, sometimes just implied.

“No, sir,” I would always reply with a sigh. “I’m not,” meaning but not audibly saying, I’m not kidding and I’m not stupid.

Then he’d shrug his shoulders, resigning himself to the fact that his young protégé was indeed, as he called it, “city stupid.”

 

“Well, son,” he began, as he did with all of his lectures to me, “I’m talking about the football game.” He paused. I waited. There was no way I was going to ask the question that was on my mind: What football game? Fortunately he continued the les- son. “Swain County’s going to be playing Sylva Friday night. ’Bout as good a rivalry as there is around here—although the Robbinsville game is always a battle too. Anyway, ’bout ev’ry- one in town goes.”

My mind flashed back in an instant to the impact that foot- ball had had on my life. The peak of my personal football career was my sophomore year in high school. I started as a defensive cornerback on the Robert E. Lee High School junior varsity team. The other cornerback, Chris Stuart, and I could read each other’s mind just by looking at each other. We were, in my opinion, a great team. I loved playing alongside him and being his friend. It was my best year.

The last two years of high school ball saw me on the sidelines, insisting on trying to be a star wide receiver when in fact I had no offensive talent whatsoever. My pride overshadowed the simple fact that if I ever wanted to see time on the field, I needed to return to the defensive side of the ball. To my permanent chagrin, I simply never swallowed my pride on this matter.

So it only made sense to me, as it does to most physicians who are somewhat pathologically frustrated athletes, to become involved in sports medicine—as I had done during my training at Duke. Suddenly my mind flashed back to a discussion I’d had with Mr. Douthit almost exactly one year before: “Folks around here take their football real serious. But none of our doctors have been particularly interested in being the team physician. Only a couple, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Bacon, will even go to some of the games. But they prefer to sit in the stands. . . .” Sit in the stands? I thought. That was anathema.

Mitch broke into my reverie. “Anyway, if you and Barb want to go to the game with me and Gay, we’d love to take you.” “Mitch, Barb doesn’t enjoy football very much, and sitting on a cold bench this far along in her pregnancy would be uncomfortable, so I doubt she’d want to come along. But how would you feel if I went up to the school and talked to the coaches about becoming the team physician?”

He furrowed his brow, looking a bit shocked. “Why, son, I’m the team physician—have been for years.”

Oops, I thought. I didn’t know that. What to do? What to say? Suddenly I had an idea. “What I meant, Mitch, was the team’s sideline physician. I’ve been told you like to sit in the stands with your wife. I’d kind of like to be on the field. You know, check any injuries when they’re fresh. Get to know the kids and the coaches a bit.”

His look softened. Maybe I was overcoming the offense I had unknowingly inflicted. After all, he had known most of these kids since birth. I did not. But there was a problem.

“Son, the coaches can do that. They know when to call me.”

“I suspect you’re right,” I answered, my mind racing for options. “But perhaps I could handle some of the routine injuries and then I’d only have to call you for the more serious ones.” I knew, and I suspect he knew, that I was posturing. But he nod- ded anyway.

“May want to go over to practice and talk to the coach,” he suggested. “Name’s Dietz—Boyce Dietz. He’s not local. Lives over in Sylva. Actually, I suspect if he had his way, he’d be coachin’ over there. But he’s here, and he does a pretty dern good job. Anyway, go up there and talk to him about it.”

I couldn’t wait.

I was almost giddy throughout the afternoon, at times excited about the prospect of being the team’s sideline physician, at times nervous, thinking I might be rejected—being new to the town and all. I was aching for a stronger sense of belonging here in Bryson City. And I really wanted to make my mark in some way, to make a difference in the end.

After seeing my last patient for the day, I drove up to the “temple” for local football—the Swain County stadium. For a small town this stadium was magnificent. I suspect there are many junior colleges lusting for such a venue. It was carved into the side of a small mountain. The visitors’ metal bleachers could hold nearly 1,000 fans, but the concrete home stands, running from 25-yard line to 25-yard line and climbing over thirty rows high, could easily seat 2,500 fans—with another 2,000 or so being accommodated on the adjoining hillside. At the peak of the stadium was a spacious press box. At the north end of the stadium was a field house that was more suited for a small college than a high school.

I parked outside the chain-link fence and walked toward the immaculately groomed field. I felt strangely at home. Several dozen spectators occupied the lower row of the stadium, and lining the fence at the edge of the field were another couple dozen men. I came to find out that they, along with many others, attended nearly every practice. Some had kids playing, but most did not. They just loved football and they loved this team. It had become part of their life, part of their family. Earl Douthit was right—the team played a vital role in this community’s life.

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

PAST STORIES

  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)

© 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.