Bryson City Tales — Wet Behind the Ears (Part 3)

This is from the thirteenth 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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Later that week, I was doing a well-baby exam when there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for my response, Mitch entered. He greeted the patient, “Howdy, Tammy. My oh my, little Libby sure is growing. Mind if I borrow your doctor for just a moment?”

We stepped into the hall. “Got a second?” Mitch asked. “Want you to meet someone.”

He headed down the hall to his office. I followed. Reva was chatting with a young couple. Sitting on the woman’s lap was a three- or four-year-old child. The way they were dressed indicated that they were not well-off. The man’s calloused hands and his tanned and wrinkled skin—making him look older than his age—indicated that he probably worked outdoors.

“Bobby and Jennie Sue, this here is our new doctor—Dr. Walt Larimore. He’s just joined us. I wanted him to hear what you had to say.”

The couple looked embarrassed.

“Go ahead,” Mitch encouraged, “he’ll be as proud of you as I am.”

Bobby began to speak—hesitantly and in low tones. “Well, me and Jennie Sue had Faye Marie here nearly three years ago over in Sylva. We come home from the hospital, and when she was six weeks old, I tripped while carryin’ Faye Marie out to the car. We was heading out to church. Anyway, we took a tumble and little Faye Marie banged the tip-top of her head on the car door. It wasn’t a real big cut, but she bled like a stuck pig. ’Bout scared me to death, and Jennie Sue here was near hysterical. I stopped the bleeding with my kerchief and we ran up here to the hospital. Louise called Dr. Mitchell, and he come and sewed her up.”

He paused and looked at the floor. “Frankly, we didn’t have the $60 to pay the bill, what with the baby doctor bills and all. My lumberin’s been a bit on the downside—prices not that good—and gas and oil’s been up. So I just couldn’t pay the bill. I called up Dr. Mitchell’s office, and Reva here just said pay when I could. Dr. Mitchell hasn’t even sent me a bill since then.”

He took a deep breath, then continued. “Well, we begun savin’ a bit, whenever we could. Cut back a bit on some things. And today we come in to pay our bill. To make it right.”

He looked up at Dr. Mitchell, admiringly. “Want to see your work?” He smiled and turned toward his daughter. Separating the hair on her forehead, he said, “Looky here. Can’t hardly see the scar.”

Mitch and I leaned forward. Indeed there was a barely dis- cernable line, just a bit lighter in color than her skin color. I wasn’t even sure I would have been able to see it if her father’s calloused finger hadn’t pointed it out.

“She’s healed mighty fine, Bobby.”

“I think she had a good doctor and that’s why she healed so good.”

“Well,” replied Mitch, “you brought her to the right place, and just in time too! That made all the difference.” I smiled at hearing this classic Mitchism again.

“We’re much obliged to you, Dr. Mitchell.” Bobby held out his hand, offering three crisp $20 bills.

“Thank you,” Mitch said.

“No, thank you, Doctor. We best be off now.”

“Bobby, you be sure to tell your daddy and momma hello for me, you hear?”

“Yes, sir, I will,” he replied as he left. Jennie Sue politely smiled and turned to follow her husband down the hall, little Faye Marie in tow.

I sat in silence.

Mitch turned to Reva. “Tell our young Dr. Larimore, will you, Reva? How often does that happen?”

“Oh my gosh, Dr. Mitchell. Several times a week. We’ve even had family members come settle a bill after a patient has passed on. Folks around here take care of their bills. May take a while, but you can depend on them.”

“Reva,” Mitch asked, “what’s the oldest bill that has ever been paid?”

Reva thought for a minute. “I suspect it was the Balls. You delivered their last child about seventeen years ago. They came and paid the bill just this summer. Said they didn’t want their daughter graduating from high school with any bills left unpaid.”

“Thanks, Reva.” He smiled as she stood up to leave the room.

Mitch looked at me. “Those big-city practice management experts, they ever tell you about this?”

Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. “No, sir, I don’t think they’ve ever heard about this sort of thing.”

“Wouldn’t look very good if I had thrown them out of the practice, would it? Or if I had sicced a collection agency on them, now would it?”

“No, sir, I don’t think it would either look good or be very wise.”

“Me neither, son.” He turned to leave. “Let’s get back to work. Lots of folks to see and lots left to learn.”

At first I thought he was referring to my ineptitude. But then I realized that wasn’t the case. He was referring to our profession—one in which we continue to learn right up to the day we stop practicing.

I smiled. Indeed, this new dog had a lot to learn from this old dog. In many ways Mitch reminded me of Fred Moody. Both not only knew their profession, but they also knew the people and they knew the community’s ways. I found myself wanting to have their skill and their insight—neither of which was learned in their schooling but was forged on the anvil of time.

Mitch would often tell me, “Son, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” I didn’t enjoy the mistakes I was making—the deficits in my knowledge base that were continually being revealed—but I was learning that the local doctors’ “backward ways” were often more helpful and fruitful than my book knowledge, which I had thought would be much more valuable than it was turning out to be.

I was especially learning to trust Dr. Mitchell’s gut instincts and his vast experience. More important than that, I decided, I was willing to learn—no matter how difficult or humbling Mitch might make that process for me. I was discovering that, in the practice of medicine, the learning never stops. And, like it or not, I had a long, long way to go—and to grow.



© 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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