Bryson City Tales — Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 4)

This is from the fourteenth 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.

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Just down the street from Swain Surgical Associates was Super Swain Drug Store. After seeing the rest of my afternoon patients, I decided to walk down to make the acquaintance of the infa- mous “Doc John”—John Maddox, Registered Pharmacist. Doc John was one of the old-timers, able not only to bottle up the most recent prescription medications but also to take raw ingredients and compound them into pills or potions or ointments or poultices or extracts or teas or powders. You name it, he could mix it—whether for oral, rectal, or topical application.

Doc John was a generalist in the best sense of the term. He did it all. Not only that, he was known far and wide for his home remedies. Uncommon was the patient I saw in the office who had not first tried one of “Doc John’s Tried-and-True Home Remedies.” What came to surprise me over the years was just how many of them actually worked.

I stepped into the store and was immediately swept up in feelings of nostalgia. The store looked almost identical to the Rexall Drug Store that my family frequented when I was growing up. I had precious memories of my dad occasionally taking me before school to the soda fountain for biscuits and bacon. I can remember us sharing a cup of coffee—mine mixed as café au lait—and my feeling very grown-up.

At the back of the store was Doc John—aging, balding, and laughing with a customer, a deep roaring laugh accompanied by an affectionate swat on the customer’s back. You could sense his joie de vivre and understand why his customers liked him so much.

As the customer turned to leave, Doc John turned to me. “How can I help you, son?”

“Hi. Are you John Maddox?”

He looked a bit suspicious. “Am,” he replied.

“I’m Walt Larimore. I just wanted to come by and meet you.”

He immediately broke into a wide grin, pumped my hand in a vigorous and prolonged handshake, and commented, “My, oh my. I imagined someone much older. They all say you look young, but I never dreamed. Come, sit over here. Got a moment?” He ushered me to one of the booths near the soda bar. “How about a milk shake—on the house?”

“Sure, I’d love one. Vanilla will be fine.”


“No thanks.”

“Becky,” he hollered to his wife, who was behind the soda bar. “This here’s the new doc. Can you get him and me a vanilla shake, honey?”

He turned his attention back to me. “Doc, where’d you go to medical school?” Before I could answer, he continued. “Because I thought they taught you guys how not to write—you know, how to scribble.”

I looked at him—more than a little mystified.

“In fact,” he continued, “I heard that when you fellows graduate from medical school, they make you sign your name on a ledger. And if they can read your name, you fail! They don’t give you your diploma!” He began to laugh and laugh. I smiled. “Anyway, I figured you must have failed out—at least once— because I can actually read your handwriting on your prescriptions.” His laughter burst for th yet again.

As I headed for home that evening, I could feel my confidence in my skills beginning to increase.

My “book” knowledge and my “practical” knowledge were now starting to work together. After supper Barb laughed as she came across an advertisement in a magazine. She read it to me. “If it creaks, cramps, cries, eats, stings, smarts, swells, twists, twinges, burps, burns, aches, sticks, twitches, crumbles, or hurts, we’ve got just the doctor for you.”

She paused. I asked, “Is that it?”

She laughed again. “Nope. The answer is . . . the family physician.” She gave my arm a reassuring squeeze. My confidence soared even higher.

That evening I sat out back on my bench. My thoughts returned to Barb’s encouragement. I found myself musing about general family practice—my growing forte. To my way of think- ing, general practice is both unique and difficult—not so much in terms of the breadth of expertise required but in the complexity of providing medical care in the patients’ real world.

The focus of family docs like me is to combine the science of medicine with the art of medicine—in the real-life context of the community in which our patients live. A general practitioner has to be ready at any moment to switch between different perspectives—biomedical, psychological, relational, and spiritual.

I smiled to myself as I gazed out over the valley. A generalist, I mused. Not what everyone in medicine wants to be, but certainly what I sense I’m called to be. And maybe I’m beginning to get there. I’m not yet the family doctor I want to be, but it’s coming.

Slowly, ever so slowly, it’s coming.



© 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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