EYES WIDE OPEN (PART 2)
I met Don Grissom and Billy Smith, two of Swain County’s finest paramedics, at the sheriff’s office.
They had the ambulance engine warmed up and the cab cooled down, and they were ready to go. The air-conditioned unit felt wonderful.
I hopped into the back and pulled down a small seat so I could sit just behind and between them. On the way up the mountain, I told them what little I knew about the case.
Billy commented, “Sheriff and Rogers both say hit’s the strangest thang they done ever seen.”
Don chimed in, “That Rogers just got a soft belly. Don’t take much to get him green-faced.”
“Yeah,” added Billy, chuckling. “Kinda like you were in your first coroner’s case, Doc.”
The memory of that accident scene was seared into my memory. Two men were drunk and got into a fight. One of them pulled out a loaded shotgun. The two wrestled over the gun, it went off, and one of them had his head blown off and his brains splattered all over the walls and ceiling of a small bedroom.
“Gotta admit it. I looked as green as I felt on that one,” I said, chagrined.
“’Member when we first met you?” Don asked.
I thought for a second and then smiled. “Yep. It was my first home delivery. Millie called me out on my first night on call here in Bryson City. I asked her to call you guys to come back me up.”
Billy laughed. “I’d a liked to have seen yer face when you walked in that barn with that farmer and saw his white-faced heifer locked in breech. I’d pay anything fer a picture of that moment.”
“Yep, my first home delivery in private practice was that little calf.” We all chuckled.
“Doc, you know if Clem still got that calf?”
“He does. In fact, I just saw her last week.”
“Did you shore ’nuff?”
“Yep. I go see her from time to time—after all, Clem did name that little calf after me.”
“He did. Named her Walter.”
The two paramedics cackled.
“Seems like so very long ago, doesn’t it?” I commented, more to myself than to them.
“Well, time does fly when you’re having fun!” commented Don. “But, Doc, I’ll tell ya this—you’ll be needin’ to git a lot more miles on ya. A year or two of practice out here is just a beginnin’—at least compared to your older colleagues.”
I smiled. “I know.”
As Don drove up a steep valley, I thought about the other physicians in town. Harold Bacon, M.D., was nearly eighty and the dean of the medical community. Bill Mitchell, M.D., was in his seventies and a general surgeon who had served as a captain in the Army in World War II. We all called him Mitch. Along with Ray Cunningham, M.D., who was a Bryson City native, they formed Swain Surgical Associates.
Ray also was a surgeon, but much younger than Mitch, and was the only residency-trained and board-certified physician in town besides Rick and me. Mitch and Ray had helped recruit Rick and me to the area, and they were allowing us to practice medicine with them until our new office was completed.
The ambulance bumped and swayed as it left the paved road and began climbing up a narrow, graveled mountain road.
I continued to think about the other local doctors. Paul Sale, M.D., was about fifty years old and a general practitioner. Like Harold and Mitch, he had practiced in Bryson City his entire career. However, Ken Mathieson, D.O., had retired from practice elsewhere and then settled in our small town to set up what would be his last practice. Like Rick and me, he was still seen as an outsider.
The ambulance strained as it climbed the steep lumber roads.
“Good thang this here has four-wheel drive,” Billy commented—to no one in particular.
Finally we arrived at the scene and got out.
Rick had heard the ambulance struggling up the mountain road and met us at the tape.
“What’s up, partner?” I asked him.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, Walt! Just wanted you to see. You know, create a memory together.”
He tried to smile—but couldn’t. He turned, and we followed.
The four of us walked over the ridge to where the deputy met us—the sheriff having left to return to town.
There was no banter as we all turned to fix our eyes on the shocking scene in front of us.
As we walked around it, Rick explained what he had learned. “Obviously, the cause of death is blunt trauma to the head.”
“How’s he still standin’?” asked Don.
“I wondered the same thing,” Rick answered. “Obviously, the blow drove his lower legs deep into the mud. And it must have crushed his spine in such a way that he’s stuck upright. Of course, having the tree right behind him helps.”
Don commented, almost to himself, “Seems like he’d bend over frontward at the hips, don’t it?”
“I agree,” I said. We three continued to walk around the body—not believing what we were seeing.
Then I noticed the crushed hard hat sitting on the shoulders. I looked at Rick. “Have you taken the hat off?”
“I did. But you may not want to, Walt. It’s pretty ugly.”
The deputy chuckled. “I thought Dr. Pyeritz here was gonna toss his lunch. He got even greener than you did at the shootin’ over at the Grissom place, Dr. Larimore.”
“Well, Rick,” I muttered, “at least our reputations are established among the law enforcement community, eh?”
“I’m just kiddin’ you boys,” the deputy said. “Don’t take no offense. Happens to every new doctor comes out this way. You just don’t see these types of things in the city, do ya?”
“True enough!” I responded. “Well, let’s take a look.”
I took a deep breath and then lifted the flattened hard hat off the shoulders of the dead man.
I’m sure my instant shock was apparent to anyone not transfixed on what I was seeing.
It wasn’t the skull, squished like an eggshell, that stunned me. It wasn’t the brain, open and exposed like a bowl of pasta, that surprised me. It wasn’t even the dead man’s face, crushed but facing up, that dazed me.
It was his eyes—wide open, protruding, bugged out, and staring straight up toward heaven.
I slowly placed the hard hat back on the dead man’s shoulders, feeling a bit green.
“Reckon he never knew what hit ’im,” Don whispered.
Then there was a moment of quiet. No one spoke until the deputy broke the uncomfortable silence. “Dr. Pyeritz, anything else you need?”
“I don’t think so, sir.”
“Well, let’s see if we can get him out of the mud and over to Sylva for the autopsy. Then I’ll go over and talk to his wife. It’s not the best part of my job.”
“It’s not the best part of ours either,” Rick whispered to me.
We turned to head back to our vehicles. Don and Billy put the body in the back of their rig. Rick and I rode with the deputy.
On the drive back into town, I thought back on the start of my professional life in Bryson City—on the sudden turns and unexpected tragedies like the one I had just witnessed, on the fragility of life and the part I played in that drama.
As I looked across the forest, it dawned on me, unexpectedly, that no life is insignificant—that each one of us is playing a critical part in a great production being overseen by an incredible director.
Even though I wasn’t sure of all the whys and all the reasons for the many events in my life and my patients’ lives that sometimes seemed haphazard or random, I knew there was One who did.
I looked out the window and turned my eyes toward the heavens. I wondered how prepared I was for whatever was coming next.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. 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.