Bryson City Tales — The Interview (Part 1)

This is from the fifth 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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When we returned to the hospital, we were escorted to Mr. Douthit’s office. The conference room table was set for lunch; a group of men and women stood by the table talking. When we entered, everyone became very quiet and turned to stare at us.

Mr. Douthit broke the silence. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dr. and Mrs. Larimore and little Kate.”

He introduced us around. We knew John Shell and R.P. Jenkins. We met Horace and Ruby DeHart, Jack Lyday, Fred Moody, and several other board members. We were seated for lunch, and Eloise Newman, the hospital’s registered dietician, came with her staff to serve us.

Now, after having interviewed across the width and breadth of western North Carolina, we had eaten way too much hospital food. So our expectations for this event were very low indeed. But what was served us that day was a feast. The crispy, nicely spiced fried chicken, almond-covered rainbow trout, and garden- fresh green beans, carrots, and broccoli smelled glorious. The mouth-watering aroma of yeast rolls was accompanied by a col- lection of what I suspected were homemade jellies and jams nes- tled around a small pot of butter. And the food tasted even better than it smelled.

“Like Sunday dinner at my grandmom’s,” reminisced Fred Moody. Fred was a local attorney and the chairman of the board. He had graduated from one of the state’s finest law schools, the University of North Carolina, and he had come to Swain County to practice law. He looked at me and said, “Dr. Larimore, this is one reason not to come to Swain County. The eating is just too good. I weighed only 160 pounds when I began my practice here. Now look at me.” He was smiling and rubbing his tummy.

“Now, Fred, we’re supposed to encourage the Larimores,” chimed in Ruby DeHart. Mr. and Mrs. DeHart looked to be in their late seventies. They had lived in the county for decades and were active in local cultural affairs.

“Well, the Larimores are staying with the Shells out at the Hemlock Inn,” added R.P., as John Shell began beaming. “So they’ve already been exposed to Ella Jo’s culinary expertise. But I’ve got to tell you, Eloise, there’s no better hospital food any- where in this country.”

“Here, here,” exclaimed voices around the table as iced-tea glasses were raised in a salute.

Eloise, a tall, handsome woman, floated around the table serving her guests. She blushed, “Well, my lands! No need to fuss. It’s just a little lunch.”

“A little lunch!” exclaimed Jack Lyday. Jack was the county agricultural extension chairman. “If this is a little lunch, then the Titanic was a little rowboat.” Everyone laughed.

“Seriously,” began Earl Douthit, “the board has discussed Eloise’s food before. It’s one of the reasons we have trouble get- ting patients to leave the hospital after they’re well. Most of them have never eaten so good.”

Jack added, “That’s why we got Fred to join the board.” “Why’s that?” inquired the apparently perplexed attorney.

“To protect us from a lawsuit when some fool patient eats himself to death.”

The laughter started again—at Fred’s expense. We basked in the warmth of the group. They obviously liked each other and thought the world of their little hospital. We were feeling more and more like we were with family.

Eloise reentered the room with a homemade pie in each hand. One was pecan and one was apple—and both were piping hot, with steam rising off the flaky crusts. Behind her was a kitchen staff member with a container of homemade vanilla-bean ice cream. Behind them walked several men in white coats. It was like a parade—and it was time for us to meet the local doctors.

Introductions were made between us and the six physicians— Bacon, Mitchell, Cunningham, Mathieson, Nordling, and Sale. Harold Bacon, M.D., was the eldest of the county physicians. Although supposedly retired, he continued to see patients in the ER and in his small office next to the hospital. He had in the not too distant past lit up the gossip lines in a two-county area by marrying a decades-younger divorcée of one of the circuit judges. Mercedith Bacon was at the top of the social pecking order in town and very active in the local Democratic party.

William E. “Mitch” Mitchell, M.D., had served the United States as a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) surgeon. He was a political and financial powerhouse in the county. A gen- eral surgeon and general practitioner, he had run the county med- ical proceedings for the twenty-five or so years of his practice and of late had run the local Republican party. After the death of his first wife, and not to be outdone by his senior competitor, he soon married a much younger woman from Asheville, North Carolina—Gay, whose name matched her propensity to laugh and socialize.

Ray Cunningham, M.D., the youngest doctor of the bunch, had begun his medical career in his hometown only two years before my arrival. He was in practice with Dr. Mitchell in the county’s first and only “group practice,” Swain Surgical Associates.

Kenneth Mathieson, D.O., had retired to Swain County after years of private practice elsewhere. Also in his late sixties, he found retirement to be unacceptable, and not too long after his arrival, he started practice.

Eric Nordling, M.D., and Paul Sale, M.D., were both gen- eral practitioners in their fifties. Both seemed to be loners; how- ever, I learned that their approach to medicine was as different as night and day. Dr. Sale took care of nearly all of his patients’ medical problems right in Bryson City—referring folks to the “big city” only if absolutely necessary. Dr. Nordling had the opposite approach: He referred as much as he could out-of-town. This conflict in practice and philosophy did not bode well for the future of their continuing to practice in the same town.

And yet that day of our first meeting all the doctors and board members seemed to hold genuinely warm feelings toward each other. The laughter was free-flowing. At one time I noticed R.P., Earl, and Dr. Mitchell enmeshed in a hushed and very serious dis- cussion, which apparently ended in harmony—smiles and back- slapping all around.

After dessert, the entire group, including the physicians, began to excuse themselves. Each of the nonphysicians seemed truly glad we were there. The physicians seemed a bit more reserved, but a few were friendly. Dr. Mathieson seemed irritated that I had come to town. Drs. Nordling and Sale also appeared reluctant to wel- come me. But for the moment I wasn’t discouraged.

Suddenly Barb and I were alone with Mr. Douthit. “Cathy,” he called to his secretary, “would you bring me the folder with the offer?”

Here we go, I thought. Down to business.

© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. 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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