Bryson City Tales — First-Day Jitters (Part 2)

This is from the seventh 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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After lunch, we drove down Hospital Hill and into town for a visit to the Swain County courthouse, where we planned to register to vote. Its gold-painted dome, mounted with a weather vane, sat atop a neoclassical, octagonal cupola. Its whitewashed stucco walls and its pillared, ionic portico made for a very impressive courthouse for a small town.

Upstairs housed a beautiful courtroom, right out of To Kill a Mockingbird. Downstairs contained some of the county offices, including the voter registration area. There were only three ladies sitting at their desks when we arrived. One of them stood and approached us, “I’m Sarah Robinson. How may I help you?” Registration took only a few moments and went well until Sarah asked, “What party will you be registering with?”

In unison, we answered, “Independent.” We thought this would be wise, given the split politics of the medical staff and until we better knew the “lay of the land.” Instantly we suspected we had made a mistake. Sarah gawked at us with a funny look. The other two women in the room nearly broke their necks snapping their heads up to stare at us, incredulously, as their collective jaws dropped.

Sarah recovered the quickest. “Independent?” she inquired. “Yep,” I said.

She repeated, “Independent?”

“Can’t we register Independent?” queried Barb.

“Of course you can,” she responded, “it’s just that no one ever does.” The other two women in the office acquiesced by solemnly shaking their heads no.

“OK,” said Barb, “that’s what we’d like to do.”

The clerk bowed her head to stare at us over her glasses. She made one last effort. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, ma’am, we’re sure,” replied my less-than-sure-sounding wife.

We left the office with our new, but temporary, voting cards. “That was weird!” we both agreed. We had no idea.

After dropping Barb off at the house, I drove to the offices of Swain Surgical Associates, looking forward with some trepidation to my first afternoon in private practice. I parked in the staff parking lot at the back of the building and entered the staff entrance. Shouts of “Surprise!” and “Welcome!” startled me and there on the table was a small cake that Sarah Crisp, the receptionist, had baked. The icing on the top spelled out the words, “Welcome, Dr. Walt.” I’m sure I was beaming as I took in the scene—balloons and confetti blanketing the entire staff lounge.

Helen Gibson had been Mitch’s nurse since before they invented dirt. Gay, Mitch’s wife, was a trained medical assistant and had volunteered to assist Dr. Cunningham, and now me. Reva Blanton worked the front office with Sarah.

Helen spoke first. “Honey, we’ve got some cake here for you, but first the boss wants to see you. He’s in his office.” I suspected Mitch just wanted to personally welcome me to the practice. I suspected wrong. He was working on a chart, intently scrawling away.

“Sit down,” he barked, pointing to an old chair with cracked leather upholstery. When he finished, he rocked back in his chair, looking not at me but at the ceiling. This did not look good. Then he rocked forward, placed his arms on the desktop and clasped his hands, looking down at them. This did not look good at all. Then he looked up at me.

“You stupid?” he asked.

“Am I what?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.

“You stupid?” he repeated.

“I . . . I don’t think so,” I stammered. “Why?”

“Well, son, you registered Independent at the courthouse.

And I’ve got to tell you, in this county, that’s stupid.”

I slumped in the chair, stunned. “Most folks around here were born and bred Democrat. I consider that a form of ignorance at best, and a genetic disease at worst. But at least folks stand on their beliefs, even if they are wrong. Most of the rest of us, those with brains and the ability to think for ourselves, are Republican. And I tell you what, son; we’re growing into a force around here. I suspect we’ll take some of the elections coming up in a few weeks.” 

He rocked back, looking a bit more relaxed now that he had unleashed his verbal onslaught. He continued, “But, son, Independent is stupid. It says you stand for nothing, you believe nothing. It says you don’t want to vote in the primaries. It says you’re straddling the fence. Son, you need to make a decision. You need to either fish or cut bait.”

Then he rocked forward again and opened up his desk drawer, taking out two small pieces of paper.

“Walt, I told the clerk’s office you wanted to revoke your Independent status and change to the Republican party.” He slid the two voter registration cards across the table.

I was in shock. It hadn’t taken me more than ten minutes to get Barb home. Maybe another five to get to the office. In that time, Mitch had gotten the news from someone and had both the gumption and political clout to reregister us and get the cards sent to his office. I was outraged and didn’t know whether to explode in righteous indignation or to laugh. I did neither. I guess I really was in shock.

He continued, “Son, if you want to change these to Democrat, that’s fine with me, but you just can’t be Independent—not around here. It’s stupid. Go on now. The girls have a little party planned for you. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

I picked up the voter registration cards. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them. I turned to leave.

“Please close the door after you.” I did.

Everyone was busy now. The waiting room was packed. The exam rooms were filled. The office buzzed.

Helen came up to me with her first of many, many orders. “Your first patient is in room 2. The patient just has a cold but is as mad as a hornet that he can’t see Mitch. I tried to calm him down a bit for you. Let me know if you need any help.”

I looked over the chart, then knocked and entered the room.

The patient took one look at me and exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re too young to be a doctor, aren’t you? HELEN, WHERE’S MY DOCTOR? HELEN?!?!”

I thought to myself, with some dismay, Welcome to rural private practice!



© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2010. 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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1 Response to Bryson City Tales — First-Day Jitters (Part 2)

  1. Lisa fair says:

    When I started private practice everyone over 40 thought I was too young to be a doctor. I knew I was old when I directed a 20 something year old patient to the exam room and asked her to get undressed while I went to see if the rabbit died. She looked at me like I had 3 heads. Half of my staff had no idea what I was talking about either.

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