Bryson City Tales — The Home Birth (Part 1)

This is from the twenty-ninth 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


Patricia Johnson, M.D., was a devoted physician in nearby Robbinsville. She had the only medical clinic in Graham County—a county that had no hospital. Patients needing hospital care either drove south to the hospitals in Andrews or Murphy, or northeast to Bryson City or Sylva.

I had gone to visit her during my first weeks in town. I immediately liked her and immensely respected her. She was specially gifted to minister to her patients in this remote environment.

From time to time, maybe for a year or two at a time, a physician might join her in practice. But they always would leave. When Patricia had no physicians assisting her and when she went on vacation, the entire county was without a doctor. On these occasions, she would call one of the doctors in Andrews to cover emergencies for her practice. Occasionally she’d call over to Swain Surgical Associates.

Helen took the call from Robbinsville. “Dr. Larimore, Dr. Johnson on the phone for you.” I excused myself from the patient I was seeing and went to take the call in Mitch’s office.

“Hi, Pat, how are you?”

“Walt, I’m just fine. Are you getting acclimated over there in the big city?” She laughed and I chuckled.

“I am, Pat, I am. Mitch and Ray are breaking me in, and I’m actually beginning to learn the ropes a bit. Rick’s here, too, and he’s been a great help.”

“That’s great. I’ve always appreciated Mitch’s surgical skills, and he knows everybody. Ray seems to do a super job, and I’m looking forward to meeting Rick one day. You need to bring him over here to visit.”

She paused for a second.

“Walt, I need a big favor. I’m taking off for a ten-day vacation. If something should come up or if my staff needs a question answered, can I have them call you?”

It seemed like a simple enough request. “Of course, Pat, it would be a pleasure.”


That night an ice storm hit and continued throughout most of the next day. The roads were a mess. Late in the afternoon the call came.

“Dr. Larimore, this is Elizabeth Stillwell. I’m a midwife in Graham County. I’m attending the home birth of a woman named Isabella Shoap, and I need some help. She’s been in labor for about thirty hours, and her cervix has been completely dilated for five hours. The baby is fine, but Isabella’s tiring out on me. When she pushes, the baby’s head comes into view just a little bit. I’ve tried every position and potion I know, but I think she just needs a little help. Could you bring a forceps or a vacuum over and give me some help?”

I paused for a moment to think. I knew Dr. Johnson delivered babies at her clinic, so I presumed, wrongly I later learned, that she provided coverage for the midwives. Nevertheless, I had not been counting on something like this. Now I was facing a thirty-mile drive during an ice storm. The drive on narrow mountain roads could be tricky in good weather. In January it could be downright dangerous.

Black ice, they called it—patches of crystal-clear ice on top of the asphalt and looking as black as the asphalt. If you drove onto a large patch, you could lose control of your vehicle in seconds. If you spun off the road in a section that had no guardrails, you could end up in a deep ravine and not be found until spring—or so the rescue squad tales led me to believe. I was more than a bit uncomfortable with this whole affair.

“Mrs. Stillwell, wouldn’t it be better for me to send the rescue squad over to pick you all up? We could do the delivery over here. Besides, the ambulance would be better able to handle the ice.”

“Dr. Larimore, I’d love to, but there’s just no way.”

“No way?”

“No way. These folks have never been to any doctor but Dr. Pat. They don’t like doctors, and they absolutely will never go to a hospital. They’re staying right here.”

Elizabeth lowered her voice to a whisper. “Doc, if you don’t come, I think this kid could die. I’d sure appreciate your help.”

I was cornered. “Mrs. Stillwell, I’ll have to drive real slow. But give me the directions, and I’ll get there as quick as I can.”

After hanging up the phone, I walked into the minor surgery room and interrupted Mitch, who was doing an in-office procedure. I explained what was going on. He smiled.

“Walt, when I was younger, I’d make those visits over there. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, delivering babies is a young man’s sport.”

I thought for a second. He’s never told me that! But before I could express that thought, he continued. “Walt, don’t be stupid. It’s a mess out there. You try driving in this, and you’re likely to hit the black ice, spin off the road, and die in some secluded ravine. And . . . ,” he paused to look up from his patient, “I don’t want to take your call if you die. So why don’t you call the rescue squad? Their truck has snow tires and chains, and it handles ice pretty well. And then you’ll have some help if you need it. You get along, and Ray and I’ll finish up things here and round on your patients at the hospital.”

“Thanks, Mitch.”

As I turned to leave, he cracked, “Break a leg, son.”

Cute, I thought. Now came the toughest call of all. I had to call Millie.

“Swain County Dispatch,” she snarled.

“Millie, this is Dr. Larimore.”

Pause. “Yes. I know.”

“Millie, I need you to have Don Grissom call me here at the office.”

“You short on appointments, son? I think it’s against the law to solicit for business.”

I smiled. I actually thought I might be growing to like this old curmudgeon.

“Nope. Just need him and Billy to take me to an emergency delivery up near Robbinsville.”

“Your car not working?”

“Millie, it’s working fine. I just may need some help up there. And to tell the truth, I’m not sure my little Toyota would do very well in the snow and ice.”

Millie sighed. “Son, you thinking about investing in a new car? On a doctor’s salary you might could even afford one.”

Cute, I thought. “Yes, I probably do need a new one. But for now, I need to get up to this place in one piece.”

Thankfully it wasn’t long before I extracted a promise that she’d call Don Grissom—and in minutes he was on the phone. 

“Whatcha got, Doc?” he asked.

I explained the situation.

“Doc, we do this all the time. Be glad to be your taxi out there to the mountains.”



  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);

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2020. 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.

This entry was posted in General Health. Bookmark the permalink.