For the next few months, I’m excerpting chapters from the first of two books about my early years in family medicine in Kissimmee, Florida – The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor. I hope you, your family, and your friends will follow along and enjoy this trip back into the past with me and my family.
CHAPTER 2A – FIRST DAY
Dawn was breaking as I sat under a massive southern live oak tree. Barb and the kids were still fast asleep as I breathed in the scents from the honeysuckles planted around the deck of our rental house and the exquisite bouquet of my first cup of freshly ground coffee. Looking at my watch, I quickly swigged the last sip of coffee before dashing out the door to drive to the hospital. I remembered our over-six-hundred-mile move from Bryson City to Kissimmee in late 1985, just four years after meeting the Autreys. The circumstances leading to our departure from North Carolina had been agonizing and arduous after learning about the abuse of our children by someone we trusted.
Although only in our early thirties, we had wondered if we had the wherewithal to start over again. Nevertheless, Dan and Boots not only made it happen but also were there to comfort Barb and me every step of the way and in more ways than we could count during our traumatic transition. Besides serving with Kevin Cole on the committee that recruited us, they were there to help smooth the stress and strain of moving to a new community with two young children: six-year-old Kate and three-year-old Scott. They helped us find and move into a small, comfortable rental home in which we lived for six months while sizing up the various areas where we could buy a home.
Dan introduced me to the Rotary Club (where Kevin served as president), the Chamber of Commerce, the Silver Spurs Riding Club, which hosted Kissimmee’s twice-a-year rodeo, and many of his friends. Boots made sure Barb met folks and knew of the various church and Bible study options. They honored me beyond measure by becoming two of my very first patients. I always enjoyed our professional and social visits.
I hopped in my old rusty-brown GMC pickup truck. Both it and my marriage had begun life the same year—1973. It had been my daddy’s, and I loved that old truck. It was a short, three-mile-and-one-traffic-light commute to my first day at Humana Hospital Kissimmee. It had been founded as Osceola General Hospital in 1933 by a Canadian, Wilson Lancaster, MD.
As I approached the doctor’s parking lot, my new partner, John Hartman, MD, was waiting at the gate. He waved to me and then placed a card over a sensor. The arm rose, and he showed me where to park. Truth be told, my old truck looked humble against the array of expensive, brand-spanking-new cars. The doctors were doing very well.
John scowled as the parking gate arm remained up. “It should close automatically. Guess I’ll report that,” he grumbled. He turned to give me a warm hug. As we walked toward the ER entrance, John commented, “It’s been seven years since I greeted you this same way at Durham County General Hospital. Gosh, it seems so long ago.”
During my internship at Duke, in Durham, North Carolina, John had been my senior resident and helped orient me at the hospital and in becoming a doctor. Leaving residency two years before me, John served with the navy, teaching in a family medicine residency at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Then, he and Cleta, his wife, and their three young daughters had moved to Kissimmee to begin practice, setting up three years before we arrived.
We approached the ER door, where a doctor was having a smoke break. “Ken, this is my new partner, Walt Larimore. Walt, this is Ken Byerly, one of the best ER docs around.” We shook hands and went inside for a whirlwind tour.
Jim Shanks, the six-foot, six-inch, handsome and well-dressed hospital administrator us. Even though the hospital had only eighty beds and a six-bed ICU, it looked enormous compared to the hospital in Bryson City. The pediatric wing, nursery, and maternity care suites were modern and well-appointed. We passed the front desk, and after meeting the pink ladies volunteering that day, turned to meet the hospital switchboard operator.
“Dolly, meet our newest doctor.”
Dolly stood and flashed a gleaming smile. “Dr. John has said some nice things about you. Welcome.”
Her warm greeting was with a voice made for radio. No wonder she’s the operator, I thought. She turned to answer an incoming call as Jim excused himself. John and I went to the doctor’s lounge to complete paperwork and take a staff photo for my ID card.
As we were having a cup of coffee, I heard Dolly’s voice over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, would the person who parked the old brown GMC pickup truck in the doctors’ parking lot move it at once or the police will ticket and tow it.” As my face flushed and John laughed, she repeated the message.
“Why don’t you go take care of that, Walt,” John said. “Dolly can find me when you’re done.”
TO BE CONTINUED
This excerpt of The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor is provided with the permission of the publisher Baker/Revell. You can learn more about the book or purchase a copy here.
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