Bryson City Tales — The Grand Tour (Part 1)

This is from the fourth 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 next morning we were due to tour the hospital. We left the inn early so we’d have some time to drive around. The route from the Hemlock Inn to the Swain County General Hospital wound along Highway 19, which intersected Galbreath Creek Road at the edge of Fergusson’s farm—the largest dairy farm in the county. Looking south across the farm, the mountains rose steeply to meet a brilliant-blue cloudless sky. We gazed at layer upon layer of misty clouds, slowly floating and drifting over the ridges and hollows—the namesake of the Smoky Mountains.

After turning on Highway 19 and skirting the farm, the road crossed the wide, shallow, but rapidly flowing Tuckasegee River. The narrow two-lane bridge looked like a relic from the ’30s or ’40s—its handsome arches beginning to crumble a bit and its concrete walls scarred by many an encounter with wayward vehicles.

Just before entering Bryson City, right across the street from Shuler’s Produce (the home of what would become our favorite boiled peanuts), we passed a barn. On the side, in peeling paint, was the injunction to

SEE 7 STATES FROM ROCK CITY                                                                                            LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN—CHATTANOOGA, TN

Right after the barn, Highway 19 became Main Street. In a moment we were in the downtown business district—only three blocks long and one block wide—bookended by the only two traffic lights in town. We turned north onto Everett Street—named after the man who served as Bryson City’s first mayor in the 1880s—and then crossed the river and followed the signs to Hospital Hill. As we turned toward the hospital, Barb pointed out a sign:


We turned up Hospital Hill Road. At the top of the hill stood the Swain County General Hospital. The general practitioners’ offices were across the road from the hospital. We passed their shingles—Harold Bacon, M.D., Eric Nordling, M.D., Paul Sale, M.D., and Ken Mathieson, D.O.—and pulled into the hospital parking lot.

“Walt,” Barb commented, “the hospital is a whole lot larger than I expected.” I agreed. The brick split-level building appeared well maintained and very nicely landscaped with flowers bloom- ing alongside the entrance. With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, we entered through the front doors.

The receptionist was expecting us, and we were quickly escorted to Mr. Douthit’s office.

After initial pleasantries, Mr. Douthit leaned forward pur- posely. “Walt and Barb, the hospital board has authorized me to aggressively recruit young physicians. Our current physicians are not getting any younger. With the exception of Dr. Cunningham, they range in age from fifty-two to eighty and have been here many, many years. They’re excellent, but we must look to the future.”

He paused for a moment. “Our first recruiting success was Dr. Ray Cunningham. He grew up here in Bryson City and then went away to college, medical school, and his surgical residency in Charleston, South Carolina. While away, he met and married a critical care nurse named Nancy. They’ve been in town for about two years. Ray is in practice with Bill Mitchell—we all call him Mitch—and Nancy is our infection control nurse here in the hospital.”

Earl continued, “As surgeons, Mitch and Ray are available to do cesarean sections, but we have no nursery and no doctors interested in delivering and caring for newborns. So we’re excited about the skills you could bring to our institution—especially with regard to pediatrics, obstetrics, and sports medicine.”

“Sports medicine?” I asked. My interest must have been obvious. For the previous three years I had served the Duke University athletic department as a team physician. For a frus- trated athlete such as myself, being able to receive sports medi- cine training at Duke was a dream come true.

“Well, we have some mighty fine sports programs here at Swain County High School. In fact, even though there’s not a thousand folks in town, we’ll have one to two thousand folks at home football games. 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 rather than work directly on the sidelines with the players and coaches. They’ll come out of the stands to check out the more seriously hurt kids, but most of the time they leave the minor injuries to the coaches or paramedics.”

He took a sip of coffee and glanced out the window. A gentle breeze was blowing through the trees. He continued, “We’ll talk finances later, but first I want our head nurse, Eudora Gunn, to take you on a tour. Then I’ve got our board coming in to meet with you for lunch. Sound OK?”



© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2019. 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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