“I am 92 and practiced medicine in Chatom for 47 years. It started as a challenge. Money was short, and I had to go to college the cheapest way I could. I went to Spring Hill College. I took chemistry and thought I’d be a lab technician. A friend took a pre-med course he said was hard, and he flunked out. I took that as a challenge and signed up for the class. I made the highest grade in the class, and I decided I should go to medical school. That was about the best way for a poor boy to get ahead.
It was during World War 2, and housing was short. The shipyard and Brookley Airfield were going full blast. People came in from the country to work. Some wealthy people in Springhill let my family live in their servant’s quarters, then we bought a house a few blocks west of Murphy High School. My brother and I used to hunt behind our house until new subdivisions ruined our hunting. I worked for the health department a couple of summers when I was in medical school. I also worked as a shoe salesman selling ladies’ shoes at a store downtown. That was good training for practicing medicine.
I just missed being drafted into World War ll. I was 16 when the war ended, and they were drafting 17-year-olds. If it hadn’t been for the atom bomb, I probably would have had to invade Japan. I was 16 when I started college and was in classes with veterans who had faced suicide charges by the Japanese. They showed me their bloody flags and souvenirs. They were married and had kids. I was in medical school during the Korean War, so that kept me out of another war.
They had two doctors in Chatom, but one was leaving. The remaining doctor was so overworked that he was also going to leave if he didn’t get help. They couldn’t find someone else to come in. I went to high school with the PET milk salesman who called on the doctor in Chatom. He suggested my name, and they started calling me. It was a tough decision process because my wife didn’t want to move to a town that small. I went back and forth but decided to go. If the other doctor left, the hospital would probably close.
I practiced in Mobile and wasn’t as busy as I wanted to be. In Chatom, I was busier than I wanted to be. It was two of us 24/7. I once delivered 12 babies in one night. One was a set of twins. At times I was the only doctor for miles around. We got emergency patients and had to do the right thing quickly or they would die. There was no time for emotion.
A lady was hysterical as she rushed in with her child who was just old enough to walk. She found him passed out, about to die. The mother had no idea what was wrong, but it was my job to save the child’s life. They were making diazinon, a powerful insecticide, at the chemical plant. I knew it was dangerous and people were bringing it home. The child’s pupils were constricted, a symptom of diazinon poisoning. The antidote was atropine. I gave the child an adult dose of it. If my diagnosis was wrong, it might have killed him. It worked, and just a few minutes later the child was back up and playing. We figured out her husband brought some of the insecticide home from work and painted the porch with it to keep down the mosquitos. The child went on the porch with a cookie and dropped it in a puddle after the rain. He picked it up, ate it, and was poisoned.
One night a lady was in labor. The baby presented with just one arm coming out. My partner panicked and called me. I had one lecture in med school on pushing the baby back up and turning it around, but I had never seen it done. It worked. I turn the baby around, grabbed it by its feet, and pulled it out.
Leo, the hospital janitor, was also the ambulance driver. He had a station wagon with a mattress in the back. I would tell him to get the patient to Mobile as fast as he could. Leo would say yes sir and took off. Those were the good old days. If the patient needed an IV, we hung it on the coat hook in the back of the station wagon.
Some strange characters came to the ER. Some were angry or with a chip on their shoulders. One patient threatened to kill me if I couldn’t get him on disability. Medical practice can be enjoyable, but I spent so much of my time being overworked and never getting enough sleep. When my partner went on vacation, I was the only doctor in Chatom and we usually had 12 patients in the hospital. That was hard. You would work all day and then have a car wreck at one in the morning. I had to deliver a baby almost every night.
Retiring from medicine and not dealing with people was a change. It was time to step away because my memory wasn’t what it had been. A good doctor needs a good memory.
Horses and being outdoors are my hobbies. I was five years old and got my mama to take me to a place to rent ponies. I went to the movies to see Gene Autrey. I got my first horse, named Lightfoot, when we moved to Chatom. On my afternoons off, I wanted to ride. I was once asked to make a house call, so I put everything in my saddlebag and rode my horse, Ginger, through the woods to their house. They were surprised to see that. I wasn’t the best rider in the world, but I had a good horse and won a couple of shows. I’ve almost given up riding the last few years because it gets hard on your spine. There’s no spine transplant. Maybe I’ll just walk my horse around.”