Bryson City Seasons — Staph and Staff (Part 2)

This is from the twenty-ninth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI 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.


Earl continued. “Let me introduce Dr. Melvin Birnbaum. Dr. Birnbaum is an epidemiologist and an infectious disease expert from the Department of Health and Human Services. He sent a team here to perform a complete and thorough investigation of this matter, which they have done. He has traveled all the way from Raleigh to give us their report in person. Dr. Birnbaum.”

Earl sat down, and the room remained silent. The physician slowly stood. He was older and much shorter than Earl. His face was round and ruddy—which made his gray mustache look even more authoritative. He buttoned the coat of his three-piece suit and cleared his throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, and member of the press.” He nodded to the reporter. “At the request of the hospital and the local health department director, my team has conducted a comprehensive investigation of this matter. We have reviewed the medical records of the babies and the mothers involved. We have made home visits to each family. We have examined the hospital from top to bottom. We have interviewed the physicians and hospital personnel, and we have performed nasal and skin cultures of all who could have possibly carried this infection.”

I nodded, remembering my visit with the team one morning, when they swabbed my nose, throat, and hands and took scrapings from under my fingernails.

The expert continued. “First the good news. In every way this hospital, its employees, and its physicians are to be commended. Both the quality and quantity of care you provide in this rural location are extraordinary. Your board and administration run a first-rate facility that is second to none in its class in this state.”

A round of light applause filled the room. Many of the employees were smiling. As the room quieted, he cleared his throat.

“However, there is a problem.” Our speaker paused for a moment and then continued. “We did find, as we suspected, two individuals who are carriers of this staphylococcus infection. In both cases, these individuals had the bacteria living in—colonizing—their nostrils and under their fingernails.”

A murmur wafted across the room, and Rick and I looked at each other. They wouldn’t dare expose us publicly like this, would they? I wondered. My mind was racing. How could Ray and Earl turn on us like this? Why didn’t they just come to us in private and discuss this? I continued to face forward as the speaker went on.

“We were able to type the bacteria obtained from these two persons and compare it to each of the babies. All eight cases matched. Furthermore, the bacterium was not carried by any family member or any physician or employee at the health department or Cherokee Indian Hospital—which were the referring entities for each of these cases.”

“Here it comes,” whispered Rick.

“I know you are curious to know who these two individuals are. But first I must tell you that this situation is not uncommon. Infections in hospitals are usually not spread by equipment or instruments; they are usually spread from person to person. And our team noted—on more occasions than we might like—that physicians and employees of this hospital do not wash their hands. Therefore, we are working with your hospital administra- tor to be sure that proper hand-washing policies and procedures are instituted.”

Dr. Birnbaum paused for a moment. “Now, as to those who actually spread the infection in the first place . . .” He paused, and once again, I sensed those sitting around us looking at us out of the corners of their eyes.

“I won’t name either individual. But I will tell you that none of your physicians are involved.”

In unison, Rick and I let out a huge sigh of relief.

The doctor continued. “One individual worked in the lab, and the other was a nurse. Both had contact with each baby. Both have been treated, and both individuals no longer carry the infection. Naming them would do no good—and we will not do so.”

There was a polite round of applause. Rick and I looked at each other and smiled. Harold reached his arm around my back and gave me a hug.

Dr. Birnbaum continued. “Let me say this in conclusion. I would encourage you all to learn from this. Any one of you could have carried and spread this infection, and you never would have known the harm you were causing. So when there is a problem with medical care, don’t start pointing fingers, but rather work together. These types of problems are almost never the fault of one single individual. Typically there are problems with the system. In this case, accusations were made against your hospital and against certain physicians here that should not have been made.”

He was quiet for a moment to let his words penetrate. Then he continued. “Let me encourage you all to work more closely together in the future. You have far more in common with each other than you have differences. And your small facility will need you all to work together. Swain County Hospital is too important to your town and to your county to break apart because of minor aggravations. Your community and its citizens need you. Our state needs you. Thank you for your attention.”

As the doctor sat down, applause slowly crossed the room and then swelled into a standing ovation. Rick and I nodded at each other as we stood—an appreciative and thankful nod indeed.

To this day I don’t know who was involved. I do know that the nurse who had been the most critical and condescending toward Rick and me left the hospital about that time.

And I do know that after that day, the physicians and staff at the hospital seemed to meld together a little more closely.

Finally we felt we at least had a chance to be part of their team—but we knew we still needed to “be very careful.”


  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. 2018. 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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